Fraud Spotlight

That’s not my signature — or is it?

Sometimes a fraudster signs their name, but with a different flourish, to deny later that they ever signed a document at all. The technique is called autoforgery. Here we examine why criminals might use this rare type of fraud and how to prove it in court.

John, a professional fraudster who liked to game the system, had worked out a scam where he could buy products online but never pay for them. He simply disputed the credit card charges by either claiming the products never arrived or saying he’d never bought them in the first place. The items were then removed from his statement.

With free products in hand, John could either enjoy them for his own pleasure or sell them for a tidy profit elsewhere online. This kind of scam, called friendly fraud, has been on the rise as people increasingly shop online. But merchants have been catching on. One way they’re stopping fraudsters like John is to insist that the buyer sign for the product on delivery.

John knew this, so he added a new twist to the scheme. He signed when his packages were delivered but with some suspicious flourishes so that he could later deny that it was his signature. (See “What is friendly fraud? A guide for small business owners,” PayPal, Aug. 21, 2023.)

That may not be a particularly clever move on John’s part as the delivery person could identify him (or his place of residence), but this fictional case of a rare form of friendly fraud called autoforgery fits nicely with the broader theme of this column: an analysis of lesser-known frauds. (See “Types of Forged Signatures,” SQN Banking Systems.) 

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