When evidence is on the line.
The letter scheme came to light when one of the recipients telephoned the woman's immediate supervisor to ask whether any of the letter's details were true. The supervisor, who was aware of the woman's job search, assured the caller that the letter was a cruel hoax. He then notified his organization's security department to report the incident.
An investigation revealed that several slanderous letters, each of which was signed with a different name, had been sent to several of the organizations with which the woman had applied for a job. Suspecting that the letters might have been written by one of her current coworkers, security collected writing samples of every one in the woman's department and hired a handwriting examiner to review the evidence.
After a week of work, the handwriting expert submitted a report identifying one of the woman's coworkers as the probable writer of the letters. Security confronted the worker with the information, asking him why he had done it. He eventually confessed, saying he had tried to sabotage the woman's career because of professional disagreements he had had with her over' the years. The man was disciplined and required to undergo psychological treatment.
Handwriting examination can be a useful supplement to other investigative tools in cases involving a range of incidents from fraud to workplace violence. Just as a fingerprint can place a suspect at a crime scene, each handwriting style has unique features that can tie a threatening letter or forged signature to a single suspect.
Handwriting examination focuses on the fact that most people's handwriting deviates from the model taught in grade school. Differences in the shape, size, and spacing of letters, as well as the ratio between upper and lowercase characters, are some of the components used to detect patterns in handwriting styles. In addition, a handwriting examiner will look for pauses, slants, extension of letters, and even pen pressure as clues to identify forgeries and suspects alike.
Although most security managers do not have the background to conduct their own handwriting examinations, they will play a vital role in deciding when to hire a handwriting examiner and what type of evidence to submit for examination. By understanding how the handwriting expert does his or her job, the security manager can make that job easier.
Hiring an examiner. There are generally two instances when a security manager should consider hiring a handwriting examiner. The first would involve a handwritten document - for example, an anonymous threatening letter - where identification of the writer is critical. The second instance involves internal or external fraud in which a signature is part of the evidence. The handwriting examiner can be asked to determine whether the signature has been forged and, if it is, who might be responsible for writing it.
To help with the examination, the security manager should provide the handwriting expert with samples of each suspect's handwriting. The samples should 'date from before the incident under investigation. They can include notes and memos that the suspects have written as part of their jobs, checks they signed for the company, or the handwriting on their job applications.
When the suspect is a customer or client, the security manager should check the company's existing records for any documents that the customer has signed or written as a part of doing business with the company. For example, a financial institution will likely have each customer's signature and handwriting on file from when the client opened an account.
In addition, the security manager should attempt to find writing samples that can be easily compared to the suspect document. For example, if the document to be examined is a threatening letter written in script, the security manager should try to provide writing samples that depict the suspects' handwriting in script. A handwriting examiner will have a much more difficult time trying to identify the writer of a letter if the document is written in script but the only samples available are in print. For that reason, an employer may want to ask new employees to write in script and in print a sample paragraph as a part of the hiring process.
The more writing samples a security manager can provide, the easier it will be for the handwriting expert to complete the examination. The examination can take from several hours to several weeks depending on the number of suspects whose handwriting is being analyzed, the number of samples, and the quality of those samples.
Handwriting experts can be helpful at various stages of an investigation, depending on the nature of the investigation. For threatening letters, for example, the security manager should conduct a preliminary investigation first and develop a narrow list of suspects before hiring a handwriting expert.
Some investigators make the mistake of providing the examiner with samples of twenty suspects, even though the security manager's investigation may have already narrowed the list to one or two. This approach increases the time and cost of the handwriting examination for the company, which can expect to pay a retainer of between $550 to $2,500 as well as an hourly fee of $150 to $350.
Cases involving forged signatures are different and can usually benefit from hiring a handwriting expert at the start of the investigation. For example, a bank customer might claim that his or her traveler's checks were stolen and forged. A handwriting examiner can sometimes determine at the beginning of the investigation whether the signatures on the returned checks are in fact forgeries or authentic - allowing the security manager to decide on the direction of the investigation.
The examination. Once hired, the handwriting examiner will conduct the examination by comparing the suspect document with the samples provided by the security manager. Individual letters and words will be dissected with the use of magnifying glasses, microscopes, and various other instruments to measure the size of letters, the distance between words, the width of letters, and other elements of the sample handwriting.
Involuntary patterns. The first thing an examiner tries to identify is the involuntary patterns of the handwriting - those aspects of the handwriting that a person cannot control. Involuntary features are so subtle and have become so automatic that an individual is not even conscious of making them. For example, an individual may inadvertently, but consistently, make one leg of a capital "A" darker than the other. In addition, a person might hesitate or change directions in the middle of writing certain letters.
Under a microscope, those hesitations turn into breaks in the flow of the letter; those changes in direction turn into unique angles and shapes in the letter formation. Because the person is not aware of these actions, he or she tends to duplicate them even when trying to voluntarily change handwriting style.
In one recent case, for example, a senior executive of a major company received three anonymous letters in which he was personally threatened. One of the notes had a drawing of a bomb ready to explode and the words: "The new year is coming. Prepare for surprises!"
An internal investigation identified two possible suspects: one was a former employee who had been laid off a month earlier and was resentful of the executive for receiving a promotion that the former employee believed belonged to him. The second was a current employee who had a strained relationship with the executive. Samples of the suspects' writing were provided to a handwriting examiner along with the threatening letters.
The examination, which took several hours, eventually identified the former employee as the writer. He was confronted with the evidence and confessed. Although the former worker tried to disguise his handwriting, several involuntary patterns gave him away. For example, the letter "p" in "surprises" was similar to the letter "p" in several writing samples the employee had made when he was working for the company. The lower extension of the "p" was slightly raised above the baseline, for example, while the shape and character of the top portion of the letter matched. The examiner noticed similar spacing between letters as well as similar proportions between capital and lowercase characters.
Three zones. In addition to shapes and sizes of letters, the handwriting expert will also take note of how an individual's handwriting fits into the "three zones" of handwriting - known as the upper, middle, and lower zones. The upper zone includes all capital letters as well as lowercase letters that extend upward, such as the letters h, 1, t, and d. The middle zone is occupied by letters that extend above the baseline but do not extend upward when written, such as n, m, a, and e. The lower zone includes all parts of a letter that go below the baseline. For example, the top part of the letters p and g are in the middle zone, but the lower portions extend below the baseline and are in the lower zone.
Most people tend to prefer, or exaggerate, one or two of the zones. Some people prefer the upper zone and write their letters with long, sweeping extensions. Others prefer the lower zone and write letters like y and g with long downward extensions.
By knowing an individual's writing patterns in the three zones, the handwriting examiner can identify certain types of forgery or identify the writer of a letter. For example, President Bill Clinton favors the middle zone when signing his name. The two 1's at the end of Bill are the same size or even smaller than the letter i. If a person tried to forge Bill Clinton's name and extended the 1's into the upper zone (the way most people do), the forgery would be easily identified.
Forgeries. When analyzing a signature, the handwriting expert will look for certain clues to determine whether it is a forgery or the real thing. If it is a forgery, it will fall into one of three categories: fictitious, traced, or simulated.
A fictitious signature is one in which the forger has not seen the authentic signature and makes no attempt to duplicate it. These can be easily identified if security has a copy of the authentic signature.
A traced forgery is one in which the forger actually traces an authentic signature to make it look identical to the real thing. However, there are several signs that can help detect the traced signature. Under close examination, handwriting examiners will usually find hesitation marks in the letters, which won't flow naturally. These marks occur because the forger must write slowly and deliberately as he or she traces the genuine signature. In addition, there are usually changes in pen pressure and breaks in the letters.
A simulated signature occurs when a forger has studied the genuine signature and attempts to write it from memory. These are more difficult to detect, but not impossible. Although the forger has memorized the style of the real signature, the imitator will often revert back to some of his or her own involuntary writing patterns.
On close examination of the forgery, the handwriting expert can often discover subtle inconsistencies from the authentic signature, such as pen pressures, slight curvatures in letter formations, and letter angles. In addition, people tend to write their signatures at basically the same length. Signatures should be measured and compared to the real thing. In many cases, forgeries turn out to be slightly shorter or longer than the genuine signature.
Written report. When the examination is complete, the security manager should receive a written report that outlines the expert's conclusions, including the level of confidence that the expert has in the drawn conclusion.
Although each examiner is different, there are generally five levels of certainty that can be given: identification, in which the examiner believes he or she has identified the writer of a letter or forgery beyond any doubt; strong probability, in which the conclusion is certain beyond a reasonable doubt; probability, in which the handwriting examiner has a high degree of certainty; indications, in which there is a reasonable degree of certainty that the writer has been identified; and no conclusion. Most conclusions fall in one of the middle three categories.
The level of certainty expressed by the handwriting expert should not alter how the security manager completes his or her investigation. Unless the examination reaches no conclusion, the investigator should use the evidence to confront the suspect.
In most cases, guilty suspects will confess when told that a handwriting expert has matched their handwriting with a suspect letter or forgery. However, the level of certainty can come into play if the case goes to court. The handwriting examination should, of course, be only one of the pieces of evidence on which the company bases its conclusion. The security manager should not ignore the possibility that a suspect who maintains his or her innocence may indeed be innocent.
Like any science, there are limitations to handwriting examination. But with sufficient evidence provided by the security manager, handwriting examination can give investigators what they need to make the guilty party see the writing on the wall - and confess.
Ruth Brayer is president of Brayer Handwriting International, a consulting firm based in New York City. She is qualified by the Supreme Court of the State of New York and is a consultant for the New York City Department of Investigation. Her e-mail address is BHI2000@IBM.net. Comments about this article can be e-mailed to the editor: email@example.com.
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|Title Annotation:||handwriting examination|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1998|
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