Falsifying documents is a criminal offense that involves the altering, changing, modifying, passing or possessing of a document for an unlawful purpose. It is considered a white collar crime and can be called by different names depending on your state, or be included as part of other collateral crimes. States charge the crime of falsifying documents as a felony.

What Types of Documents Can Be Falsified?

Falsifying documents is usually part of a larger effort to commit another offense, such as fraud, tax evasion, or forgery, all in an effort to gain some financial advantage. While not exhaustive, you can be charged with falsifying a document if you provide false information on official documents such as tax returns, academic transcripts, bank records, business records, personal checks, or identification cards.

What Actions May Constitute Falsifying a Document?

You may be arrested for falsifying documents if you engage in any of the following activities:

  • Altering or misrepresenting factual information such as the profits and losses for a business;
  • Forging a signature on a check or other document to get services you are not entitled to
  • Using official letterheads without authorization;
  • Concealing assets or property in a bankruptcy or divorce proceeding;
  • Knowingly using or distributing a fake document to gain employment or entrance into the country; or
  • Destroying information material to an investigation.

What Elements Do I Need to Establish the Crime of Falsifying a Document?

Typically, you will be charged with the falsification of documents if it can be proven that you intended to falsify the documents. When someone is charged with tax evasion, for example, the person has intentionally acted to defraud the IRS. Tax filers make careless mistakes all the time and the law must distinguish between those persons who intentionally make false statements knowing the consequences of their actions if caught and those who negligently provide information to the IRS that they do not know to be false.

Likewise, intent is an element of forgery. Variations may be possible depending on your jurisdiction, but forgery involves the creation or altering of a document with the intent to defraud someone. This may involve crimes as complex as representing a fake piece of art as genuine, or signing a check using someone else’s signature in order to commit identity theft. Other documents that can be forged include deeds, promissory notes, wills and contracts.

What are Some Legal Penalties for Falsifying Documents?

Depending on your state and the specific facts of your case (such as whether you received a significant financial gain from your actions or the type of document involved), you are likely to be charged with a felony if you falsify documents. If convicted of a felony, you will have to pay a substantial monetary fine and incarceration of at least a year.

Keep in mind also that your actions may also implicate federal laws and result in additional punishment. For example, forging treasury checks or using a forged military ID will result in federal charges.

Are there Non-Legal Penalties for Falsifying Documents?

Even after you have served your time or paid your fines, if you have been convicted of a crime, there are often lingering penalties that are non-legal in nature. For example, a conviction will stay on your criminal record and anyone who is legally permitted to check your history will be able to learn of your conviction.

A conviction may determine whether you are hired or terminated, it can influence whether you get a loan or at what rate, and a landlord may decide not to rent an apartment to you because of your conviction. It is important that you do not compound the problem by falsifying information you provide about your crimes in these situations.

Are there Any Defenses for Falsifying Documents?

This will depend on what your state laws provide and the specific crime with which you are charged. For example, if you are charged with falsifying documents in an attempt to commit forgery, you may legitimately argue that you believed you had the authority to sign the document. In the case of tax evasion, if you negligently provided false information to the IRS, you may be able to mount a defense if you reasonably relied on information that was provided to you by experts.

If you are charged with the crime because you are in possession of falsified documents, you must show that you did not falsify the documents and did not know they were falsified. Let’s say that you were given the deed to a foreclosed property that you purchased. In such a case, it is doubtful you would be charged with a crime unless you were part of this real estate scheme to defraud.

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

Falsification of a document is a serious crime. Consult with a criminal defense lawyer in your state who can explain what you can expect and whether there are any defenses available to you. Your attorney can provide you with the research and guidance needed for your case.