Examination of Signatures
A signature of disputed origin is compared with examples from a known individual to determine whether or not it is genuine.
Signatures can be:
Freehand forgery – written by a 3rd party making an attempt to copy a genuine signature, sometimes from memory.
Traced forgery – written by a 3rd party by tracing over a genuine signature.
Cut and paste – a genuine signature of an individual is copied from one document onto another, by means of physical cut and paste, or more often by the use of a computer scanner and appropriate software. Since no two signatures are identical, is it is usually only possible to confirm that such a signature is a forgery when the ‘source’ document is available or if more than one document exists showing the 'same' signature.
The examination involves a detailed assessment of the characteristics of the signature and assessment of the significance of the similarities and differences between the questioned and specimen signatures. This includes observing the style, size, proportions, spacing and fluency of the signatures, together with detailed examination of the individual parts of the signature and character shapes, proportions, construction and connections between characters. A questioned signature is always examined for the presence of any hesitations or unexpected pen lifts that could indicate forgery.
An opinion regarding authorship will be expressed using the Range of Opinions shown in the FAQs. The strength of the opinion will depend on a number of factors including the quality of the documents, the nature and distinctiveness of the signatures, and the suitability of the specimen signatures available.
If a signature is found to be not genuine (ie, it is a forgery), it is rarely possible to determine who actually wrote the signature.
Examination of photocopied/scanned documents
These will not contain all of the detail present in the original documents and whilst an examination may still be possible, it could be that an opinion regarding authorship is qualified. In the case of signatures in particular, copies may not show some of the common signs of forgery such as tracing guidelines, or hesitations and pen lifts that might be present in the original ink signature. You are welcome to email copies of the documents for a free initial assessment and I can advise whether they appear to be of a sufficient quality for a reliable examination.
Factors affecting signatures
Signatures can be affected by a number of factors including health, age, intoxication or fatigue. It is therefore essential for me to know whether any of these are relevant to the individuals concerned.
In order to carry out an effective comparison, I usually require at least 10-12 examples from the person whose signature is in question. These documents can include a mixture of originals and copies.
It is not usually possible to compare signatures with handwriting, nor is it usually possible to identify the author of a forged signature.
Ideally specimen signatures must have been written on different occasions so that the variation within the individual's signature can be assessed. It is also useful if they are contemporaneous with the document in question (written at the same time). If not, it would be useful to see examples from before AND after the date of the document in question. A signature from a 30 year old passport is not the ideal specimen for comparison with a document signed last year, for example.
In the case of joint instructions it is desirable that all parties involved agree the authorship of any documents submitted for use as specimens.
Examples of suitable documents include receipts, cheques, business documents, loan applications, membership cards, banking documents and copies of passports and driving licences.
A further source may be documents filed on the Companies House website; I may search this archive myself in order to find potential specimens and will discuss this with the relevant parties.
Examples of documents that could contain disputed signatures
Last Will and Testament
Power of Attorney
Land Registry TR1 form
SPECIMEN SIGNATURES: Quick Guide
Around 10-12 examples
Written on different occasions
Need to to be contemporaneous, or both pre and post-date the document in question
Can be on original and copy documents
- Expert cannot usually identify the author of a forged signature.