Reading Between the Lines: Analyzing Documents Effectively


Bob Tie, CFE, CFP
Fraud Magazine contributing editor

If a client asked for your help in confirming the source or authenticity of a handwritten document, would you recommend fingerprint analysis, a handwriting examination or both? And whose technical support would you seek?

First, "be cautious about ordering latent fingerprint examinations of a document," says Farrell Shiver, a board-certified forensic document examiner (FDE) and a principal of Shiver & Nelson Document Investigation Laboratory Inc. in Woodstock, Ga. "Such examinations can substantially alter the document. The chemicals for performing latent print examinations might cause ink to run and can preclude some types of ink examinations and those for indented handwriting. If both of these types are necessary, conduct the forensic document examination before processing the document for latent fingerprints."

Second, look before you leap when choosing someone to advise you on document examination strategies and tactics. The Fraud Examiners Manual (FEM) recommends consulting the forensic laboratories of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies on criminal matters, such as anonymous threats. The FEM also states that in contractual disputes or other civil matters, fraud examiners can locate fully qualified, certified forensic document examiners by contacting the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE) or the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). Shiver identified the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners (ASQDE) as another reliable source of information on qualified FDEs.

Shiver cites the following example: American General Life and Accident Insurance Co. v. Preston Ward, Derick Ward, and Ann Vines, a 2008 insurance-related case decided in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division. The judge granted plaintiff's motion to strike the testimony of defendants' expert witness. "Although he holds himself out to be a ‘qualified' questioned document examiner," the court said, "… it [is] significant that [the expert witness] is not accredited by the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (the ‘ABFDE'). The ABFDE is the ‘only recognized organization for accrediting forensic document examiners.' Wolf v. Ramsey, 253 F. Supp. 2d 1323, 1342 (N.D. Ga. 2003)."

"The other side in the case will do whatever it can to challenge your expert's qualifications," Shiver added. "But even if they could present the judge with a strong argument — before trial — for not permitting your expert to testify, they might hold off doing so until the first day in court or until you're about to put your expert on the stand. At that point, you have no time to engage a replacement. So protect yourself and your client from that fate; do your homework before selecting an FDE."

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