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Home - Disputed Handwriting - Science of Fingerprints

Articles from Disputed Handwriting

Character And Temperament Indicated By Handwriting

Detecting Fraud And Forgery In Papers And Documents

Guided Handwriting And Method Used

A Warning To Banks And Business Houses

Interesting Autograph Signatures

Tales Told By Handwriting

Erasures, Alterations And Additions

How To Detect Forged Handwriting

Thumb-prints Never Forged

The Handwriting Expert

Forgery As A Profession

largest detective agencies in the United States. They make a specialty

of bank work and from the number of forgers apprehended and convicted

know just how the work is done. A careful reading of this chapter will

put bankers and the public on their guard against the most pestiferous

rascals they have to deal with.]

Professional forgers usually make their homes in large cities. They

are constantly studying schemes and organizing gangs of men to defraud

banks, trust companies and money lenders by means of forged checks,

notes, drafts, bills of exchange, letters of credit, and in some

instances altering registered government and other bonds, and

counterfeitering the bonds of corporations. These bonds they dispose

of or hypothecate to obtain loans on.

A professional forgery gang consists of: First, a capitalist or

backer; second, the actual forger, who is known among his associates

as the "scratcher"; third, the man who acts as confidential agent for

the forger, who is known as the "middleman" or the "go-between";

fourth, the man who presents the forged paper at the bank for payment,

who is known as the "layer-down" or "presenter."

The duties of the "middleman" or "go-between" are to receive from the

forger or his confidential agent the altered or forged paper. He finds

the man to "present" the same, accompanies his confederates on their

forgery trips throughout the country, acts as the agent of the backer

in dealing out money for expenses, sees that their plan of operations

is carried out, and, in fact, becomes the general manager of the band.

He is in full control of the men who act as "presenters" of the forged

paper. If there be more than one man to "present" the paper, the

middleman, as a rule, will not allow them to become known to each

other. He meets them in secluded places, generally in little

out-of-the-way saloons. In summer time a favorite meeting place is

some secluded spot in the public parks. At one meeting he makes an

appointment for the next meeting. He uses great care in making these

appointments, so that the different "presenters" do not come together

and thereby become known to each other. The middleman is usually

selected for his firmness of character. He must be a man known among

criminals as a "staunch" man, one who cannot be easily frightened by

detectives when arrested, no matter what pressure may be brought to

bear upon him. He must have such an acquaintanceship among criminals

as will enable him to select other men who are "staunch" and who are

not apt to talk and tell their business, whether sober or under the

influence of liquor. It is from among this class of acquaintances that

he selects the men to "present" the forged paper. It is an invariable

rule followed by the backer and the forger that in selecting a

middleman they select one who not only has the reputation of being a

"staunch" man, but he must also be a man who has at least one record

of conviction standing against him. This is for the additional

protection of the backer and forger, as they know that in law the

testimony of an accomplice who is also an ex-convict, should he

conclude to become a state's witness, would have to be strongly

corroborated before a court or jury in order to be believed.

As the capitalist and forger, for self-protection, use great care in

selecting a "middleman," the middleman to protect himself also uses

the same care in the selection of men to "present" the forged paper.

He endeavors, like the backer and forger, to throw as much protection

around himself as possible, and for the same reasons he also uses

ex-convicts as the men to "present" the forged paper at the banks. The

"presenters" are of all ages and appearances, from the party who will

pass as an errand boy, messenger, porter, or clerk, to the prosperous

business man, horse trader, stock buyer, or farmer. When a presenter

enters a bank to "lay down" a forged paper, the "go-between" will

sometimes enter the bank with him and stand outside the counter,

noting carefully if there is any suspicious action on the part of the

paying teller when the forged paper is presented to him, and whether

the "presenter" carries himself properly and does his part well. But

usually the middleman prefers waiting outside the bank for the

"presenter," possibly watching him through a window from the street.

If the "presenter" is successful and gets the money on the forged

paper, the middleman will follow him when he leaves the bank to some

convenient spot where, without attracting attention, he receives the

money. He then gives the presenter another piece of forged paper,

drawn on some neighboring bank. They go from bank to bank, usually

victimizing from three to five banks in each city, their work being

completed generally in less than an hour's time. All money obtained

from the various banks on the forged paper is immediately turned over

to the middleman, who furnishes all the money for current expenses.

After the work is completed the presenters leave the city by different

routes, first having agreed on a meeting point in some neighboring

city. The "presenters" frequently walk out of the city to some

outlying station on the line of the road they propose to take to their

next destination. This precaution is taken to avoid arrest at the

depot in case the forgery is discovered before they can leave the

city. At the next meeting-point the middleman, having deducted the

expenses advanced, pays the "presenters" their percentage of the money

obtained on the forged paper.

A band of professional forgers before starting out always agree on a

basis of division of all moneys obtained on their forged paper. This

division might be about as follows: For a presenter where the amount

to be drawn does not exceed $2,000, 15 to 25 per cent; but where the

amount to be drawn is from $3,000 to $5,000 and upwards, the

"presenter" receives from 35 to 45 per cent. The price is raised as

the risk increases, and it is generally considered a greater risk to

attempt to pass a check or draft of a large denomination than a

smaller one. The middleman gets from 15 to 25 per cent. His work is

more, and his responsibility is greater, but the risk is less. There

are plenty of middlemen to be had, but the "presenters" are scarce.

The "shadow," when one accompanies the band, is sometimes paid a

salary by the middleman and his expenses, but at other times, he is

allowed a small percentage, not to exceed 5 per cent, and his

expenses, as with ordinary care his risk is very slight. The backer

and forger get the balance, which usually amounts to from 50 to 60 per

cent. The expenses that have been advanced the men who go out on the

road are usually deducted at the final division.

In case of the arrest of one of the "presenters" in the act of "laying

down" forged paper, the middleman or shadow immediately notifies other

members of the band who may be in the city. All attempts to get money

from the other banks are stopped, and the other members of the band

leave the city as best they can to meet at some designated point in a

near-by city. Out of their first successful forgeries a certain sum

from each man's share is held by the "middleman" to be used in the

defense of any member of the band who may be arrested on the trip.

This money is called "fall money," and is used to employ counsel for

the men under arrest, or to do anything for them that may be for their

interest. Any part of this money not used is paid back in proportion

to the amount advanced to the various members of the band from whose

share it has been retained. Sometimes, however, in forming a band of

forgers there is an understanding or agreement entered into at the

outset that each man "stand on his own bottom"--that is, if arrested,

take care of himself. When this is agreed to, the men arrested must

get out as best they can. Under these circumstances there is no

assessment for "fall money," but usually the men who present the paper

insist on "fall money" being put up, as it assures them the aid of

some one of the band working earnestly in their behalf and watching

their interests, outside of the attorney retained.

When one of the party is arrested, an attorney is at once sent to him.

As a rule, in selecting an attorney, one is employed who is known as a

good criminal lawyer. It is also preferred that he should be a lawyer

who has some political weight. The middleman employs the attorney, and

pays him out of the "fall money." The arrested man is strictly

instructed by the attorney to do no talking, and is usually encouraged

by the promise that they will have him out in a short time. In order

to keep him quiet, this promise is frequently renewed by the attorney

acting for the "middleman." This is done to prevent a confession being

made in case the arrested man should show signs of weakening. Finally,

when he is forced to stand trial, if the case is one certain of

conviction, the attorney will get him to plead guilty, with the

promise of a short sentence, and will then bargain to this end with

the court or prosecutor. Thus guided by the attorney selected and

acting for the "middleman" and his associates, the prisoner pleads

guilty, and frequently discovers, when it is too late, that he has

been tricked into keeping his mouth shut in the interests of his

associates. It is but fair to state, however, that if money can save

an arrested party, and if his associates have it, they will use it

freely among attorneys or "jury fixers," where the latter can be made

use of, and frequently it is paid to politicians who make a pretense

of having a "pull" with the prosecuting officers of the court.

In most instances when checks are sent out they are not seen again by

the maker for a period of days. As business houses of any considerable

magnitude always have a comfortable balance with their bankers, ample

time and an abundance of cash are thus placed at the disposal of the


As to the best methods of raising checks so that the fraud will not be

readily detected, much depends upon the way in which they are written.

The style of handwriting, the texture and quality of the paper, and

the chemical properties of the inks, are points which are necessary to

be considered.

Many checks may be altered to a larger amount by the mere addition of

a stroke of the pen here or the erasure of a line, by means of

chemicals, in some other place. For instance, take a check of $100, no

matter how it may be written, there are five or six different ways in

which it may be altered to a much larger amount, and in such a manner

as to defy the scrutiny of the most careful bank teller. It may be

made into six hundred by merely adding the "S" loop to the "O,"

dotting the first part of the "n" to make of it an "i," and crossing

the connecting stroke between the "n" and the "e" to form the "x." To

complete the change it will be found necessary to erase with chemicals

part of the "e."

A check for one hundred dollars may also be easily altered to eight

hundred dollars, especially when sufficient space has been left

between the "one" and the "hundred," as follows: Add to the "O" the

top part of an "E," dot part of the "n" to form an "i," connect the

remaining part of the "n" with the "e," forming the loop of a "g," and

then add "ht." The figure "i" is very easily changed to "8."

Sometimes a small capital is used for an "o." In this case an

alteration into "Four" hundred is easily accomplished by simply

prefixing a capital "F" and transforming the "e" into an "r," the "n"

being made to serve as a "u."

Another change frequently made is to "Ten" hundred. It is done simply

by adding the stem and top part of the "T" to the "O" and changing the

first part of the "u" to an "e."

Of course, any of the foregoing changes may be made with equal

facility whether the amount be "hundred" or "thousand."

Two hundred, if anything, is a much easier amount to alter than one

hundred. It is done in the following manner: Make an "F" by simply

crossing the "T;" dot the first part of the "w" to make an "i." and

change the "o" into an "e." The figure "2" can be made into a perfect

"5" by simply adding the top part of the "5" to it.

Three hundred is not so easily altered; still it may be done by

changing the word "hundred" into a "thousand"--an alteration which is

by no means rare, and which is quite simple, especially when the word

is begun with a small "h." The modus operandi is as follows: Place a

capital "T" before the "h"; change the first part of the "u" into an

"o," connecting it with the second part, which, with the first part of

the "u," will form a "u"; change the second part of the "u" to an "s";

erase the top part of the "d," making of it an "a," and complete the

alteration by making an "n" of the "r" and "e." This alteration may

appear to be somewhat complicated, but a trial of it according to

direction will show how nicely it may be done.

"Four" is another easy amount to alter. It is done by extending the

second part of the "u" into a "t," and adding the "y" loop to the "r."

"Five" is changed into "Fifty" and "Fifteen." "Six," "Seven," "Eight,"

and "Nine" are changed into "Sixty," "Seventy," "Eighty," and "Ninety"

by simply affixing the syllable "ty." "Twenty" is another easily

changed amount; all that is necessary to make "Seventy" of it is to

make an "S" of the "T," and change the first part of the "w" into an

"e." To make the alteration perfect, the top part of the "T" must be

erased with chemicals.

In regard to the chemicals used to erase ink, much depends upon the

ink. For most writing fluids and copying inks which are in daily use,

a saturated solution of chloride of lime is the best eraser known, and

when properly made is very quick and effective in its work. It may be

applied with a glass pointed pen, to avoid corrosion, or with a clean

bit of sponge. It acts as a powerful bleach, and with it the face of a

check may be washed as white as before it was written upon. When inks

have become dry and hard, sometimes carbolic or acetic acid is used

effectively with the chlorine. The application of any alkali or acid

to the clean polished surface of a check will, of course, destroy the

finish and leave a perceptible stain, but the work of covering up

these traces is quite as simple as removing the ink in the first


A favorite trick of forgers and check and draft raisers, who operate

on an extensive scale, is for one of them to open an office in a city

and represent himself as a cattle dealer, lumber merchant, or one

looking about for favorable real-estate investments. His first move is

to open a bank account, and then work to get on friendly terms with

the cashier. He always keeps a good balance--sometimes way up in the

thousands--and deports himself in such a manner as to lead to the

belief that he is a highly honorable gentleman, and the bank officials

are led to the belief that he will eventually become a very profitable


Occasionally he has a note, for a small amount to begin with, always

first-class two-name paper, and he never objects--usually insists--on

paying a trifle more than the regular discount. At first the bank

officials closely examine the paper offered, and of course find that

the endorsers are men of high standing, and then their confidence in

the "cattle king" is unbounded. Gradually the notes increase in

amount, from a thousand to fifteen hundred dollars, and from fifteen

hundred to two or three thousand. The notes are promptly paid at

maturity. After the confidence of the bank people has been completely

gained, the swindler makes a strike for his greatest effort. He comes

in the bank in a hurry, presents a sixty-day note, endorsed by

first-class men, for a larger amount than he has ever before

requested, and it generally happens that he gets the money without the

slightest difficulty. Then he has a sudden call to attend to important

business elsewhere. When the note or notes mature, it is discovered to

be a very clever forgery. This has been done time and again, and it is

rare that the forger has been apprehended.

The latest mode is for the forger to imitate a private check by the

photo-lithographic method, after having obtained a signed check. The

signature, after being photographed, is carefully traced over with

ink, and the body of the check is filled up for whatever amount is

desired. The maker of the check is requested to identify the person

who holds it, and as a general thing he does not wait to see the money

paid. The moment his back is turned, the layer-down palms the small

check and presents the large one. This way of obtaining money is

without the assistance of a middleman.

Private marks on checks are no safeguards at all, although a great

many merchants believe they can prevent forgery by making certain

dots, or seeming slips of the pen, which are known only to the

paying-teller and themselves. This precaution becomes useless when the

forger uses the camera. Safe-breakers are often called upon by forgers

and asked to secure a sheet of checks out of a check-book. When this

is accomplished a few canceled checks are taken at the same time.

These are given to the forger and he fills them up for large amounts,

after tracing or copying the signature. The safe burglars receive a

percentage on the amount realized. If your safe, vault or desk is

broken open where your check-book is kept, carefully count the leaves

in your check-book, also your canceled checks. If any are missing

notify the banks and begin using a different style of check

immediately. The sneak-thief, while plying his trade, often secures

unsigned bonds of some corporation which has put the signed bonds in

circulation, leaving the rest unsigned until the next meeting of the


Frequently unsigned bonds are left in the bank vault for safe keeping.

These are stolen and sent to the penman or "scratcher." Then a genuine

signed bond is purchased, from which the signatures are copied and

then forged. The same trick has been played on unsigned bank notes,

but on the bank notes almost any name will do, as no person looks at

the signature, as long as the note appears genuine.

The ingenuity of a countless army of sharpers is constantly at work in

this country, devising plans to obtain funds dishonestly, without

work, but, in fact, they often expend more time, skill and labor in

carrying out their nefarious schemes, than would serve to earn the sum

they finally secure, by honest labor. Every banker must, therefore, be

on his guard, and should acquaint himself with the most approved means

of detecting and avoiding the most common swindlers. This is just as

necessary as it is to lock his books and cash in his safe before going


Next to the counterfeiter, the forger is the most dangerous criminal

in business life. Transactions involving the largest sums of money are

completed on the faith in the genuineness of a signature. Hence every

effort should be made to acquire the art of detecting an imitation at

a glance. This can only be done by considerable practice. It is

asserted that every signature has character about it which can not be

perfectly copied, and which can always be detected by an experienced

eye. This is problematical, but certainly a skillful bank-teller can

hardly be deceived by the forgery of a name of a well-known depositor.

A banker and business man should accustom himself to scrutinize

closely the signatures of those with whom he deals. He should cut off

their names from the backs of checks and notes, and paste then in

alphabetical order in an autograph book devoted to that purpose, and

compare any suspicious signature with the genuine one.

In consequence of the numerous frauds committed by forged checks, some

of the European bankers have adopted the custom of sending with their

letter of advice a photograph of the person in whose favor the credit

has been issued, and to stop the payment when the person who presents

himself at the bank does not resemble the picture. If this practice

were to become universal, the object of preventing frauds could be

well attained.

It is probably a fair statement to make that any draft issued can be

raised, but it is unquestionably true that some can be much more

easily altered than others, and as in the last ten years additional

safeguards have been thrown around the bills of exchange of banks, so

the forger has become more and more expert and proficient, just about

keeping the pace. As the question of armor that can not be pierced and

projectiles that will pierce anything are first one and then the other

a little ahead, so it is with the bank forger and the banks.

Admirable as some of the work unquestionably is, if anything so

disreputable can be called admirable, there is even yet a something

about either the work or the operator that should arouse the

suspicions of the teller or cashier who is on the alert; and a teller

or cashier without suspicion, and who is not on the alert, may be a

comparatively good man, but is certainly in the wrong place.

The presenter of a counterfeit bill at the teller's window may have no

knowledge of the character of the bill that he is presenting, but he

who presents a forged draft, in addition to presenting a bad bill, has

a consciousness himself of the fraud that he is attempting, thus

giving the teller not only the chance of scrutinizing the bill, but

also to judge of the appearance, whether nervous or otherwise, of the

man who is laying the trap, and these two facts should inure greatly

to the advantage of the teller.

As the news of the many successful depredations is scattered, we see

banks trying different methods of protection, many of which at first

glance are admirable, but which it will be seen on a little careful

study simply require but slight change of method on the part of the

professional forger to successfully evade. For instance: Many banks

are daily advising their correspondents of the number and amounts of

drafts issued, either in the course of the mails or otherwise. This at

first sight would seem to be almost absolute protection, but it really

may prove a trap to the bank so advised, as may readily be seen. Let

us suppose that Mr. Forger steps into a bank in Cleveland, buys a

draft for $5; a day or two later, or on the same day, he buys another

draft for $5,000. The first draft is successfully altered to $5,000,

but would not of course be paid by the correspondent bank for this

amount, because of the advice they have of this number is that it was

issued for $5; but it was a simpler matter to change the number of the

draft to correspond with the $5,000 draft, the number of which the

forger has, than it is to make the other alterations necessary to

raise it from $5 to $5,000. After making these alterations it goes in

for payment, and on reference to the advice sheet it is found that

this apparent number was issued for $5,000 and paid accordingly. Then

the forgers have simply the problem on hand to avail themselves,

either directly through the bank of issue or elsewhere of this genuine

$5,000 draft, which is certainly not a hard task for the men who have

successfully performed the harder one.



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