depositing a check

Is It Illegal to Sign Someone Else's Name on a Check?

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 satisfying a financial obligation for goods or services they received. Thus, if you put another person's signature on any type of document that has legal significance, you are committing what is called forgery. In Iowa, such an offense is either a misdemeanor or felony, and it carries harsh penalties.

What Is Forgery?

Generally, forgery occurs when commits a specific act with a 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 a 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

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 committing forgery. 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 the forged check, which is also 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.

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.

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

  • Instrument issued by the government;
  • Stock, bond, or other instrument 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 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, contact Branstad & Olson at (515) 329-3100 to get a team with over 65 years of experience on your side.