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Is It Illegal to Forge a Signature on a Check?

Someone Depositing a Check

Is Forging Signatures Illegal?

Yes, if you put another person's signature on any type of document that has legal significance, you are committing what is called forgery. 

When someone puts their signature on something, typically, they're doing it to engage in some type of legally binding transaction. For example, if a person signs a check, they satisfy a financial obligation for goods or services they received. That's why in Iowa, forging signatures is illegal and can be either a misdemeanor or felony, carrying with it carries harsh penalties.

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What Is Forgery?

Generally, forgery occurs when commits a specific act with writing that is not what it purports to be. Additionally, the act had to have been done without the other person's permission and with the intent to defraud.

That means the item was forged to obtain something for one's own benefit or to cause another person a loss. Iowa Code 715A.2 contains several subsections prohibiting behavior considered forgery.

These include:

  • Altering the writing of someone else without their consent
  • Making or using writing that is claimed to be authorized by the person named when it was not
  • Using a writing one knows to be forged
  • Or possessing a forged item for the purpose of defrauding someone

What Is an Example of Forgery?

Now, let's say you take a check from your friend's mom. You write it for $945, sign your friend's mom's name on it, and use it to pay your rent. You later admit to your friend what you did but ask them not to say anything because you're going to pay back the money.

Regardless of the reason you needed the check and your intent to return the money, you may still be accused of forging someone’s signature. That's because your actions in the above example fall under the forgery law. By putting your friend's mom's signature, you've created a writing that purports to be what it's not.

The institution accepting the check would believe that the instrument was authorized by the mother, when, in fact, she did not know about its creation or use. Additionally, you used a forged check, which is also a forgery. Also, you gained something for your own benefit – paying your rent – and caused a loss to your friend's mother.

What Are the Punishments for Forgery?

As mentioned earlier, when someone commits forgery, they may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.

Aggravated Misdemeanor

The offense is an aggravated misdemeanor when the forged item is a:

  • Will
  • Deed
  • Contract
  • Release
  • Or commercial instrument

In Iowa, a conviction for an aggravated misdemeanor is punished by up to 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $6,250.

Class D Felony

Forgery is a class "D" felony when the writing is a:

  • Instruments issued by the government
  • Stock, bond, or other instruments for property or an enterprise
  • Check or draft
  • Legal document for entry into or employment in the U.S.
  • Or driver's license, ID card, birth certificate, or professional license

If you sign someone else's name on a check, you could be charged with a class "D" felony. A forgery conviction may result in up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $7,500.

If you've been accused of a crime in Des Moines, reach out to Branstad & Olson by calling (515) 329-3100 or contact us online to get a team with over 65 years of experience on your side.

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