Published
Quarterly by
Lifeloom.com
ISSN: 1547-9609

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."
Sir Walter Scott

Winter 2005
Volume II
issue 3

W M M New Issue W M M Archives

 

Dr. Anil Aggrawal is a professor of Forensic Medicine at the Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi-110002.
His Website address is http://www.geradts.com/~anil/index.html. Send snail mail to S-299 Greater Kailash-1, New Delhi-110048.
Phones (R): 26465460, 26291942, 26413101; (O) 23239271-4.

Direct email to Dr. Anil Aggrawal.


Dr. Anil Aggrawal's Forensic Files

photo of Dr. Anil Aggrawal
Forgery of Cheques

             A very interesting case came to me last year. A cheque was brought to me, which was supposed to have been forged. I was to tell the police whether the cheque had really been forged or not. Well, the whole story was like this. A 37 year old man Ramesh Chand had got some house repairing work done from a contractor Mange Lal. At the end of the work, the payment due to Mange Lal was Rs. 5,000. Ramesh Chand made out a cheque of the Vaish Co-Operative New Bank Ltd, DaryaGanj, for Rs. 5,000 to Mange Lal. However when Mange Lal got this check, he played a little trick. He added a zero in front of the figure 5,000. Thus the check became for Rs. 50,000. However in all cheques there is a place where the amount has to be written in words too. This provision is made only to ensure that such frauds do not occur frequently. For instance making 50,000 from 5,000 is quite easy. One has to just add a zero in front of 5,000. But to change the words “five thousand” to “fifty thousand” is somewhat more difficult. However Mange Lal seemed quite expert in these matters. He deleted the letters “ve” from the word “five,” and instead added the letters “fty.” Thus the letter “five” became “fifty.” Then he went to the bank and encashed the cheque. The cashier took extra care to examine the authenticity of the check, since the check was for a very big amount. He counterchecked the signatures of Ramesh Chand kept in the bank's records. Since Mange Lal had not interfered with the signatures at all, the signatures tallied. Finding the cheque okay, the cashier consulted the Bank Manager and then encashed the cheque.

             About a week later when Ramesh Chand went to get his pass book completed, he came to know that he had been duped by Mange Lal. He immediately complained to the Bank Manager about it. The police was called and Mange Lal was apprehended in no time. Quite surprisingly he did not seem perturbed. He quite coolly maintained that he had committed no fraud. He indeed had to recover a sum of 50,000 from Ramesh Chand. He (Ramesh Chand) had made out the cheque himself, because he had genuinely to pay Mange Lal that amount. Seeing the confidence of Mange Lal, I was quite sure that only two possibilities existed now. Either Ramesh Chand indeed owed that much money to Mange Lal. Or else, Mange Lal was so confident of his forgery that he was sure nobody could pin him down. Ramesh Chand denied this statement of Mange Lal quite vehemently. He asserted that Mange Lal was duping everyone by speaking a blatant lie. The Bank manager was requested to take out the check from his record room, so that it could be examined. This was the only way to check who was speaking the truth. When the check was brought for the examination of all, it indeed showed the amount Rs.50,000 written over it both in figures and words. Try hard as one would, no one could find any sign of addition or alteration in it. If at all Mange Lal had forged the cheque, he had done it very deftly. Finally the case was brought to me for opinion.

             So much for the case. When I examined the cheque, I found that it was indeed impossible to find any additions or alterations by naked eye examination. So indeed it appeared that Mange Lal was speaking the truth. But such cases can not and should not be dismissed so lightly. A detailed scientific examination is required before a final word could be said about such matters.

             A word may be said here about erasures before we proceed further. Documents are often made fraudulent by the erasure of important information on a document and the subsequent addition of new data or information. The documents which are frequently changed in this manner (for some or the other gain) are share deeds, inheritance wills, contracts, university degrees, letters offering jobs, passports, birth and marriage certificates, ration cards and of course cheques. It is not infrequent for a terrorist to steal a valid passport, erase the important personal information on it, add one's own particulars in it, and then use that forged passport to run away to other countries. Similarly wills may be changed to dupe someone of his rightful share.

             Erasures can be made in one of three ways. One way is the so-called chemical erasure. In this type of erasure, some chemical such as oxalic acid is used to remove the writing from the document. In fact, one can easily get “ink-removers” from the market, which contain some kind of chemical or bleaching agent to remove the stains. The second way is abrasive erasure. Erasure by common household rubber comes under this class. You must have noticed that ink stains can not be removed by rubber. Thus commonly ink stains are removed by chemical erasure. But even ink stains may be removed by abrasive method. For this one must buy a special rubber, which has sand grains in it. This rubber is commonly kept by the typists to remove typewritten matter. The sand grains rub the paper fibers very harshly and remove them from the paper, the ink stains coming out along with them. Even if you do not have this kind of rubber with you, you could still remove an ink stain by taking a blade, scalpel or a sharp knife and scratching the paper with the sharp tip. This is also a form of abrasive erasure. Abrasion types of erasures are the easiest to detect because abrasive method disturbs the fibers of the paper. As you must be knowing, paper is made from wood pulp, and is thus composed of fibers. These fibers may not be visible on naked eye examination, but they are very clearly seen on microscopic examination. If some written matter has been erased from the surface of the paper by abrasive means, the delicate arrangement of the fibers will be disturbed. This disturbed arrangement could very easily be seen through the microscope. In addition, the coating of the paper will also be disturbed.

             The third type of erasure are the lift off ribbon erasures. These are special kinds of erasures. This method is applied in modern electronic typewriters. This type can remove any type of written material from the paper. Basically it consists of applying a strip of adhesive tape over the written line, and then jerking the strip off the surface of the paper. The fibers of the paper along with anything written over them will adhere to the adhesive tape, and come off along with it. This method can be easily demonstrated at home. Take any written material, which you can not remove by any means. An old book or magazine will be ideal. It is almost impossible to erase the printed word by either chemical or abrasive means. Now take the normal adhesive tape, stick a small strip over a written line and then take it off the surface of the paper with a little jerk. You will find that the written line will be erased instantaneously. This type of erasures can usually be detected with the aid of oblique lighting to see the indentations.

             The most difficult erasure to detect is the carefully conducted chemical erasure of writing ink. Mange Lal was aware of this (He was perhaps reading too much of scientific crime literature!) So he had used some kind of bleaching agent to erase the writing.

             However every crime does leave its trace and can be detected by one or the other means. Even this technique disturbs the coating of the surface of the paper and an examination under a special kind of light will usually reveal stains of the removed ink. This light is known as the Ultraviolet light or simply as UV light. This light comes from the sun also but in very minute quantities. It can however be produced in the lab. If the document is examined under the UV light, it will reveal the erased writing.

             You might be wondering as to how this is possible. Actually most inks shine brightly when exposed to UV light. This property is known as fluorescence. In other words we can say that inks fluoresce in UV light. Even when the ink is erased from the document (cheques, certificates etc.), the area where the ink was present retains the fluorescent properties of the ink. If such a document is exposed to UV light, we can see the erased writing.

             When I examined the disputed cheque under UV light, I found to my surprise that the letters “ve” were shining in front of the letters “fi.” Above the shining letters “ve” were written the words, “fty.” This clearly showed that the letters “ve” had been deleted by Mange Ram, and the letters “fty” added afterwards.

             When Mange Ram was shown a photograph of this cheque taken under UV light, ( which clearly showed the letters “five thousand”), he collapsed and admitted his guilt. He said that he had wanted to make a quick buck, and that is why he had played this trick. The court admitted my scientific evidence, and Mange Ram was given a sentence of two years of rigorous imprisonment.

POSTSCRIPT

             Decipherment of erasures is possible depending upon the thoroughness of the erasure too. No technique will decipher a complete erasure. Some additional techniques may be utilized for deciphering partial erasures. Partial erasures can be deciphered using low magnification. Other techniques available to enhance images are (1) examination through colored filters to enhance contrast, (2) high contrast photography (3) infrared examination. Infrared (IR) is just a kind of special kind of radiation which can not be seen by human eyes. Carbon particles are very opaque to IR light. This means that if carbon particles are present in an ink (as they are in many inks), this technique will enhance the image. Erased iron-based fluid inks can be restored by fuming the document with sulfo-cyanic acid which reacts with the iron in the paper to produce a red color. But first let me tell a little bit about "iron-based fluid inks" here.

             There are two basic types of fountain pen inks. The iron-gallotannate type was used as early as the eighth century and with substantial improvement is still in use today. Iron salts are combined with gallotannic acid in an aqueous solution. This solution when applied to paper is first colorless but darkens quickly when oxidized by air. Modern inks of this type contain a synthetic blue dye to provide an immediate blue color to the ink which turns black after oxidation on paper. This explains the origin of the name blue-black fountain pen ink. Blue-black inks are very stable. The ink is insoluble in water and cannot be erased effectively by abrasion. The other type of fountain pen ink consists of an aqueous solution of synthetic dyes. These inks have a bright color but are not as stable as the blue-black inks. When we talk of iron-based inks, we are actually talking about the iron-gallotannate type of inks. Had I fumed the forged check (submitted to the bank by Mange Lal), with sulfo-cyanic acid, I could have got a red color in place of the words "ve," which were supposed to have been deleted by Mange Lal.

Copyright 2005 by Dr. Anil Aggrawal


 

Published
Quarterly by
Lifeloom.com
ISSN: 1547-9609

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."
Sir Walter Scott

Winter 2005
Volume II
issue 3

 

 

W M M New Issue W M M Archives

 

The Web Mystery Magazine (ISSN: 1547-9609) is an on-line quarterly journal dedicated to investigating the mysterious genre in print, in film, and in real-life. The Web welcomes well-researched, well-written articles, reviews, and fiction. Writers are invited to send letters and inquiries to editor@lifeloom.com. Copyright 2005, lifeloom.com