“Falsifying documents” is a type of white collar crime. It involves altering, changing, or modifying a document for the purpose of deceiving another person. It can also involve the passing along of copies of documents that are known to be false. In many states, falsifying a document is a crime punishable as a felony.

Some types of documents that are commonly falsified may include:

  • Tax returns and income statements
  • Personal checks
  • Bank account records
  • Business record keeping books
  • Immigration documents (such as visas, passports, etc.)
  • Identification cards and birth certificates

Basically, any type of official form or document can be illegally modified.  Falsifying documents is usually done in connection with broader criminal aims, such as tax evasion.

In order to be convicted of falsifying documents, the accused person must have acted with criminal intent. Some businesses forms such as corporations can also be charged with falsifying documents.   

What Types of Acts May Constitute Falsifying a Document?

Many different types of acts can be considered as falsifying a document, including: 

  • Altering or misrepresenting factual information such as prices or monetary amounts
  • Stating false information when requested to provide truthful statements
  • Forging a signature
  • Using official letterheads without authorization
  • Concealing assets or property (especially in bankruptcy proceedings)
  • Knowingly using or distributing a fake document
  • Destroying information material to an investigation

Again, a person can only be held criminally liable if they are acting with the intention of deceiving or defrauding another party, such as another person or a bank. So, if a person was using a document but did not know that it was fake, they usually cannot be found guilty of falsifying a document.

What Are the Legal Penalties for Falsifying Documents?

Falsifying documents is a very serious offense and is generally classified as a felony. This means that a person charged with falsifying documents may be subject to the following legal penalties:

  • Having to pay a monetary fine
  • Incarceration in a prison facility

Depending on the nature of the offense, as well as individual state laws, falsifying documents can result in a prison sentence of 5-10 years. Also, if government documents or federal authorities were involved, the legal penalties may be more severe. A maximum sentence for falsifying federal investigation and bankruptcy records can be fines and 20 year imprisonment.

Legal penalties may increase with repeat offenses. 

What are Other Penalties for Falsifying Documents?

Besides being subject to penalties and incarceration, falsifying documents can have adverse consequences in one’s life and may constitute:

  • Grounds for termination of one’s job
  • Reduction of one’s credit score
  • Disqualification for bank loans
  • Grounds for removability in immigration proceedings
  • Grounds for ineligibility for passport records
  • Being subject to Business and Professions Code lawsuits
  • Being audited by the I.R.S. more frequently

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Am Accused of Falsifying Documents?

If you or your business entity is being charged with falsifying documents, you may wish to speak with a criminal defense lawyer immediately. An experienced criminal attorney can explain the specific laws of your individual state. Also, they may be able to tell whether you can raise a defense, such as a lack of criminal intent.