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Counterfeiting is a specific form of forgery. Typically, counterfeiting is the creation of bogus versions of money, bonds, securities or other valuable documents with the intent to defraud or deceive. It also covers consumer goods such as software, drugs, media (i.e., DVDs, CDs), and “knock off” designer merchandise. Forgery includes many such criminal hoaxes, whether through printing, engraving, or via use of the computer. In many cases, it is illegal simply to be in possession of forged items.
Forgery also includes the falsification of things from wills to signatures, checks to evidence. Forgery is generally considered a form of fraud — the intentional use of deceit or other dishonest means to deprive another person of money, property, or a legal right.
An important distinction is that the fraudsters, forgers, and counterfeiters must intend to deceive to be guilty of a crime. It is possible for someone to forge a signature, for example, mistakenly thinking he or she has the right to do so. If the intent to deceive is not there, it is not technically forgery.
The various forms of forgery carry various penalties, and they are hefty. Forging a signature on a US security can earn a prison sentence of up to ten years. Forging the security itself can get you twice that. Title 18 of the US Code, Chapter 25, covers the specific regulations regarding crimes from forging/counterfeiting military discharges (§498) to changing the VIN on your car (§512).
As mentioned, counterfeiting money and other government obligations is considered especially heinous. The US Code protects even the components of government securities and obligations in Section 474. It is a Class B felony, for example, to possess paper similar to the distinctive paper used by the Treasury to print money. And like securities fraud, counterfeiting money is considered so important an issue to federal authorities that — though most any federal offense CAN be tried in state court —counterfeiting is almost never handled in state court.
Another way that counterfeiting is unique is that jurisdiction for investigations involving the counterfeiting of United States obligations and securities lies with the US Secret Service. The Secret Service’s Financial Crimes Division also deals with the forgery of government bonds and checks, as well as other forms of bank fraud.
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