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Forensic blog for document examiners – Q9 Consulting, Inc.
From:
Michael Wakshull -- Forensic Document Examiner Michael Wakshull -- Forensic Document Examiner
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Temecula , CA
Wednesday, November 20, 2019

 
Forensic blog for document examiners – Q9 Consulting, Inc.https://quality9.comForensic document examinationMon, 21 Oct 2019 23:51:29 +0000en-UShourly 1 156779282 Presentation to American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys (www.aaepa.com)https://quality9.com/presentation-to-american-academy-of-estate-planning-attorneys-www-aaepa-com/https://quality9.com/presentation-to-american-academy-of-estate-planning-attorneys-www-aaepa-com/#respondMon, 21 Oct 2019 23:51:29 +0000https://quality9.com/?p=1285On Friday, October 18 I had the privilege of presenting “Document Fraud in Elder Abuse and Probate Cases” to the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys at their conference in Coronado, CA. This organization is excellent at planning. They have speakers perform a microphone check and test presenting the slides the day before the presentation. […]

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On Friday, October 18 I had the privilege of presenting “Document Fraud in Elder Abuse and Probate Cases” to the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys at their conference in Coronado, CA. This organization is excellent at planning. They have speakers perform a microphone check and test presenting the slides the day before the presentation. They make sure all aspects of the presentation are run flawlessly. This is definitely an organization that focuses on the members and goes out of the way to deliver excellence.

This was the first time I have delivered a two-hour presentation without a break. The audience was excellent. Attendees used the microphones on the room to ask questions. They were very good questions.

The presentation used cases on which I have worked during the past few years. Various means of fabricating documents were explored.
An interesting method by which signatures were applied to documents is using a cut-and-paste technique. This technique is performed by cutting a person’s legitimate signature from a document, then applying it to a new document. In prior days, this was performed by literally cutting the signature from a paper document. Often, a photocopy was made, then the signature was cut from the photocopy. Modern techniques are to scan the source document, then lift the signature using software such as Photoshop, GIMP, and Photo Paint. The lifted signature is then placed onto the fabricated document. The result is a valid signature on an invalid document. Using software techniques, skilled document examiners can often discover the alteration.

Other methods of fabricating documents in elder abuse and probate cases are to simulate the person’s signature onto a document. In one case, I showed that the signature on the change of beneficiary form comported with the decedent’s signature from before his stroke. After the stroke, he could barely write his last name. His last name was clearly written on this document. I showed the wife (stepmother) wrote the text on the form. I could not show whether she wrote the signature.

Attendees were shown clues to watch for when a prospective client claims that a document is not authentic. This helps the attorney know whether they have a valid case. In one instance, I told my client that his client wrote a holographic will. The will that left everything to the attorney’s client was not written by her aunt.

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Examples of document fraud in probate caseshttps://quality9.com/examples-of-document-fraud-in-probate-cases/https://quality9.com/examples-of-document-fraud-in-probate-cases/#respondSun, 16 Jun 2019 22:31:01 +0000https://quality9.com/?p=1275A will is discovered in a book After his father died, the son was looking through a book his father owned. On a page of the book the son discovered a holographic will written allegedly by his father. He filed this will with the Riverside County court. The will left the entire estate to the […]

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A will is discovered in a book

After his father died, the son was looking through a book his father owned. On a page of the book the son discovered a holographic will written allegedly by his father. He filed this will with the Riverside County court. The will left the entire estate to the son. His sister filed suit alleging the will discovered in the book was not written by her father and was fraudulent. Each side hired a forensic document examiner to opine as to the authenticity of the handwriting and signature on the will. I was hired by the defendant.

To ensure that there was no limitation on the quality of the signature, I went to the courts viewing room to examine the original will. Plaintiff’s document examiner did not view the original will. Plaintiff’s document examiner worked with only a photocopy of the will.

During the trial, the son erred in his testimony. He misstated a date that was material to the case. To correct this error, his attorney asked the court to waive attorney-client privilege and he took the stand to testify as to the correct date.

The document examiner for the plaintiff, the sister, obtained two exemplars of the father’s handwriting. Based on these two exemplars, the document examiner opined that the signature was not authentic. Defenses document examiner obtained more than 20 exemplars of the father signature. These exemplars spanned 50-year period. The exemplars showed the father’s signature was very consistent across the 50 years. As expected, there was some variation in the signature yet everyone’s signature has a certain degree of variability. Part of the defense’s presentation included a statistical analysis of the signature in question. The statistical analysis showed that the signature in question statistically lies within the expected variability of the father’s signature. As a result of all evidence presented, the defense prevailed. Not only did the statistical analysis provide evidence the signature was authentic, a comparison of details of the signature also showed the signature was authentic.

Does a notarized document prove the document is authentic?

Another case involving the will in Riverside County, there is an entry in a notary book showing that the decedent had in fact signed the will. The signature in the notary book comported with the signature on the will. I examined the original will at the court’s document viewing room. The interesting aspect of this case was all the other exemplars of the decedent did not match the signature on the will. This raises the question whether the decedent had multiple signatures or whether the signature in the notary book was written by someone other than the decedent and was the same person who wrote the signature on the will.

The method used in this case to have an alternative view of the writing is called the Fischhoff method. It is named for a Hungarian document examiner who discovered the method as a way of reducing bias in handwriting comparisons. This method takes the writing and turns it upside down so that the readers brain is not reading writing. The reader is looking at strokes rather than letter formations.

The new wife attempts to collect her husband’s entire insurance policy

After her husband died, his wife presented a change of beneficiary form to the life insurance company she claimed her husband had completed the day before he died. The sole beneficiary was the wife, the stepmother of the decedent’s children. Children filed suit claiming the change of beneficiary form was not signed by their father. They believed their father would never write them out of his estate. I was retained by the children’s attorney to examine the handwriting and signature on the change of beneficiary form.

In this case the wife was subpoenaed to sit for request exemplars. Request exemplars are where a person sits before a document examiner in produces writing to be used to compare to the questioned writing.

I was able to show that the wife wrote the text on the change of beneficiary form. As a result she admitted in deposition that she did complete the change of beneficiary form. She denied signing her husband’s name to the form. She insisted that her husband had signed the form. I was able to show that the husband did not sign the change of beneficiary form, yet I could not tie her to the husband’s signature.

 

Who inherits the multimillion-dollar estate?

The founder of a well-known company died. His daughter (an attorney) and his nephew (an attorney and state legislator) were not included in the will. I was retained by the daughter and nephew to determine the authenticity of the decedent’s signature on the will. In this case I opined that the decedent’s son had probably signed the will. The daughter provided exemplars from both her father and her brother.

 

Did the wife abscond with the estate?

The elderly man married his caretaker. She was an immigrant from another country who sought a means to remain in the United States. He was also an immigrant who did not learn to read or write, yet he built a financial empire. The question to be solved in this case was whether the wife had been writing checks to herself and others with the checks allegedly signed by her husband. In this case, I went to opposing counsel’s office to examine the original documents that were signed by the husband. I also examined original documents that were questionable whether they were signed by the husband.

The husband’s signature is known as a stylized signature. This means the letters in the name are not recognizable. In the husband’s signature, the first letter of his first name is recognizable get the remainder of the signature is not recognizable. Even so there are common attributes among his known signatures. His signature is relatively simple. A result is his signature could readily be simulated. The problem is that a person simulating the signature would probably not notice the small details of his known signature.

For this case I obtained exemplars of the decedent and hit from his wife. After careful comparison I was able to demonstrate that many of the signatures in many of the writings on the check word done by the wife.

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Rebecca Zahau on ID Discoveryhttps://quality9.com/rebecca-zahau-on-id-discovery/https://quality9.com/rebecca-zahau-on-id-discovery/#respondTue, 04 Jun 2019 02:14:45 +0000https://quality9.com/?p=1265The show #RebeccaZahau: an ID Murder Mystery on Discovery HD that aired last week on Discovery HD had many errors and attempts to bias the audience. Reporter Diane Diamond (@DiDimond) stated I allegedly made estimates about the height of the person who write “SHE SAVED HIM, CAN YOU SAVE HER” on the door at the […]

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The show #RebeccaZahau: an ID Murder Mystery on Discovery HD that aired last week on Discovery HD had many errors and attempts to bias the audience. Reporter Diane Diamond (@DiDimond) stated I allegedly made estimates about the height of the person who write “SHE SAVED HIM, CAN YOU SAVE HER” on the door at the Spreckels Mansion on Coronado, CA. I never made these estimates. The ability to estimate a person’s height based on where they write on a door or wall is not part of my training, nor do I know any literature describing this skill. A human factors expert made these observations.

@DiDimond said I was cross examined by Dan Webb. I was cross examined by David Elsberg.

There were other misstatements by the narrators.

@DiDimond stated that I used Photoshop to doctor the handwriting. This is not a true statement. I did use Photoshop to create the courtroom exhibits. The implication by Ms. Diamond was that Photoshop results in manipulation of the images. Photoshop is used to extract portions of the writing, such as signatures. It is used to perform comparative analysis of two or more documents. Photoshop also has powerful tools for ink differentiation and finding artifacts on the page that are not visible to the naked eye.

Ted Rowlands stated that bringing up on cross examination that I used Photoshop discredited me. Since @KeithGreer won the case, the jury was not swayed by the cross examination.

Examples of these uses of Photoshop were shown in the TV show. These included comparison of the writing of Adam and Rebecca with that on the door.

My suggestion is that you listen to the interviews and testimony of the experts who worked on the case rather than the words of the narrators.

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Electronic cut-and-paste documentshttps://quality9.com/electronic-cut-and-paste-documents/https://quality9.com/electronic-cut-and-paste-documents/#respondSun, 26 May 2019 17:42:48 +0000https://quality9.com/?p=1257The fake slowed down image of Nancy Pelosi speaking mainly realize how prevalent the use of software is to create false images passed off as legitimate images. In my profession as a forensic document examiner I am seeing this more frequently. I have three #forensic document cases from #attorneys involving what is called a #cut-and-paste […]

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The fake slowed down image of Nancy Pelosi speaking mainly realize how prevalent the use of software is to create false images passed off as legitimate images. In my profession as a forensic document examiner I am seeing this more frequently.

I have three #forensic document cases from #attorneys involving what is called a #cut-and-paste #signatures. Traditionally, these signatures were cut from a legitimate document that a person had signed then pasted onto another document. A photocopy was made of the manufactured document. The photocopy was then presented as a copy of an original document.

During the past few years I’ve had examples the cut-and-paste was performed using software such as Photoshop or GIMP. Legitimate documents were scanned into the computer. Using software, the signatures were lifted from the scan of the legitimate document then placed onto a document the person did not sign. In several cases the person did not do a very good job placing the cut signature onto the new document. In this manner I showed that although the signature was legitimate, the document itself was not legitimate.
In the three #legal cases mentioned above, the person performing the cut and paste became a little more creative than just lifting a signature from a document and placing it onto another document. Manipulating the size and shape of the signatures is a simple task using software. The result is that the two signatures appeared to be written by the same person yet are not duplicates of each other. I was able to overlay one signature on top of the other than just the height or the width of the signature to determine whether they were identical. Usually small artifacts on the page will be lifted along with the signature. When these artifacts coincide in the overlay, it is apparent that one is a copy of the other. When both are photocopies, maybe they are both false documents with both signatures having been lifted from a third unknown document.

Other techniques I’ve seen are placing the cut signature at a different orientation to a signature line than in the source signature. This gives the illusion that the signatures were executed at different times since the relationship to the signature line differs in each document.

Knowing the source of your document is very important. If you question whether a photocopy is legitimate, as the source of the photocopy, “How do you know this is legitimate?”. When you continue to have questions about the authenticity of a photocopy, asked to see the original document. Check to make sure the signature is ink from a pen rather than printed using toner or ink jet. Modern color photocopiers can be so good that it photocopied signature may appear to be legitimate. You may need to examine the signature with a microscope to determine whether it is a photocopy or signed in ink.

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A weak forensic opinion helps win a casehttps://quality9.com/weak-forensic-opinion-helps-win-a-case/https://quality9.com/weak-forensic-opinion-helps-win-a-case/#respondWed, 15 Aug 2018 21:04:24 +0000https://quality9.com/?p=1184A weak forensic opinion helps win a case. You have hired a forensic examiner to analyze evidence for your civil case. After a thorough examination of the evidence, the forensic examiner delivers a weak forensic opinion toward favoring your theory of the case. Will the examiner’s weak opinion help you in trial? When the opinion […]

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A weak forensic opinion helps win a case.

You have hired a forensic examiner to analyze evidence for your civil case. After a thorough examination of the evidence, the forensic examiner delivers a weak forensic opinion toward favoring your theory of the case. Will the examiner’s weak opinion help you in trial? When the opinion fails to show a preponderance of evidence, can you still prevail at trial?

In 2016 I was retained by the plaintiff in this civil wrongful death case in San Diego County: Zahau v. Shacknai. Previously, the county coroner ruled the decedent committed suicide. Her family believeed she was murdered by Adam Shacknai.

My retention was to compare the writing on a door inside the Spreckels Mansion with the handwriting of the victim, Rebecca Zahau, and with the handwriting of the accused, Adam Shacknai. The hand printed message was “SHE SAVED HIM CAN YOU SAVE HER.”

The scope of my work was determining whether either Ms. Zahau or Mr. Shacknai had written the words on the door. Several other examiners were retained to examine other technical aspects of the case. These included a knot expert, a medical pathology expert, a forensic psychiatrist, and others.

The handwriting on the door was done in block printed text. This meant the exemplars also must be handprinted block letters. Cursive writing could not be used for comparison. A generally accepted practice in handwriting comparison is handwriting must be compared with the same type of writing. The only examples I had of Mr. Shacknai’s handwriting were six verification pages that he had signed. Typically, a signature is not a valid exemplar for hand printing. Fortunately, Mr. Shacknai wrote his signature as handprinted block letters. Therefore, I had writing to compare with the writing on the door. This limitation led to a weak forensic opinion as to authorship.

Exemplars of Ms. Zahau that contain block print were application forms, immigration forms, and other documents on which she had handprinted. The exemplars were written in different physical locations between 2002 and 2009. These documents also contained Ms. Zahau’s signature. The defense objected on foundation whether these forms were written by Miss Zahau.

I had compared the signatures on these documents with Ms. Zahau’s known signatures. The result was the signatures on the exemplars were authenticated as having been written by Ms. Zahau.

The block printing on the exemplars was compared to determine whether the exemplars were all written by the same person. The exemplars were written by the same person. They had also been signed by Ms. Zahau. Using the signatures as foundation for the exemplars, the documents were admitted into evidence as having been handprinted by Ms. Zahau.

Comparing of the handwriting on the door with both Mr. Shacknai and Ms. Zahau required comparing letters in the handwriting that were common to both people and the writing in question on the door. Only two letters were common among all three writings. These were the letters “A” and “M.”

I extracted these letters from photographs I had taken of the door, and digital scans of the exemplars. The photographs of the door were taken at the inspection in the San Diego crime laboratory. A comparison sheet was made for each common letter to show whether the writing of each person comports with the writing on the door.

The lack of exemplars, and having only two letters in common among the writings posed a difficulty with arriving at an unqualified opinion on whether either Ms. Zahau or Mr. Shacknai had written the text on the door. These constraints led to a weak forensic opinion that there are indications Mr. Shacknai wrote the text on the door. It was inconclusive whether Ms. Zahau had written text on the door. These opinions were relative to all potential writers.

An accepted standard used by forensic document examiners for expressing opinions is published by the Scientific Working Group for Document Examination, SWGDOC. The standard defines indications as:

“indications (evidence to suggest)—a body of writing has few features which are of significance for handwriting comparison purposes, but those features are in agreement with another body of writing.”

This is a weak forensic opinion. It does not meet the preponderance of evidence requirement in a civil case. In document examiner’s standard terms, an opinion needs to show it is more likely the handwriting is either written by the suspected writer or not written by the suspected writer.

Two basic tenets of handwriting comparison are that no two people write alike and person writes exactly the same way twice. Handwriting examiners use exemplars to establish a range of variation in the way a person writes.

When the opinion was limited to only these two people, the comparison of their handwritings to the handwriting on the door lead to an opinion it was more likely the handwriting of Mr. Shacknai than the handwriting of Ms. Zahau.

Because my opinion was weak, the defense requested an evidentiary hearing for the court to determine whether my testimony would assist the jury. Could my testimony allow the jury to arrive at a decision there was a preponderance of evidence Mr. Shacknai wrote the words on the door?

The evidentiary hearing was held the first morning of my testimony. The Court ruled that I may testify before the jury. The reason I could testify was because when compared with only two people, rather than all potential people, I demonstrated it was more likely the handwriting was of Mr. Shacknai than Ms. Zahau. My testimony before the jury lasted almost a day and a half.

The defense’s document examiner offered no input regarding authorship of the handwriting on the door. The document examiner testified, “I concluded that … collecting additional known writing would not be of assistance.” Although he was retained by the defense, he never obtained any exemplars from Mr. Shacknai. He never performed a comparative handwriting examination. Yet, he arrived at an opinion that it is inconclusive whether Mr. Shacknai, or any other person could be identified as the writer of the words on the door. The opposing document examiner testified, “This is just not suitable for comparison.”

After a month-long trial, the jury returned a verdict in a few hours. Their verdict favored the plaintiff. The verdict was Ms. Zahau was murdered by Mr. Shacknai.

In this case, an initially weak forensic opinion was a valuable asset for the plaintiff. When the evidence was limited to two suspects, rather than all people, the weak opinion became a much stronger opinion. Plaintiff’s attorney, Keith Greer, presented jury with compelling evidence to support his case. The defense tried unsuccessfully to exclude exemplars of Rebecca Zahau’s handwriting. Over the defenses objections, Mr. Greer successfully laid the foundation for admitting this evidence. When the jury was able to use the demonstrative exhibits to visually compare Ms. Zahau’s handwriting and Mr. Shacknai’s handwriting, the agreed there is a preponderance of evidence it was Mr. Shacknai’s handwriting on the door.

When your forensic examiner delivers a weak forensic opinion as defined by their standards, examine your options. You may be able to reframe the opinion using legal standards to support your case. In this case where the opposing side offered no evidence to refute their claim that Mr. Shacknai did not write the words on the door, plaintiff’s attorney was able to frame weak evidence into preponderance of evidence that Mr. Shacknai wrote the words on the door.

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A standard operating procedure for document examinationhttps://quality9.com/document-examination-standard-operating-procedure/https://quality9.com/document-examination-standard-operating-procedure/#respondSat, 11 Aug 2018 00:00:03 +0000https://quality9.com/?p=1182Standard operating procedures A standard operating procedure best suited for their needs is developed by each document examiner. Regulated industries dictate the standards to be followed. For non-regulated industries, the examiner can follow ASTM/SWGDOC/SAFE or some other industry-recognized standards. When the document examiner’s standard operating procedure (SOP) is based on the ASTM, SWGDOC, SAFE, or other industry […]

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About the Author: Michael Wakshull, president of Q9 Consulting, is a civil and criminal court-qualified forensic document examiner providing services throughout the U.S.A. and internationally. Cases include authentication of handwritten and computer-generated documents. Wakshull holds a Master of Science in technology management, a graduate school certificate in forensic document examination and has spoken at international forensics conferences including the World Congress of Forensics in China. He authors and presents document examination courses for minimum continuing legal education (MCLE). Wakshull is a member of the vice president of Scientific Association of Forensic Examiners, National Association of Document Examiners, past president of the San Diego Chapter of Forensic Expert Witness Association (FEWA), ASTM International, and a senior member of the American Society for Quality.

Mike has authored three books on the topic of forensic document examination. 

As a National Speakers Association member, he is available to speak on these subjects.

 
Forensic Document Examiner
Q9 Consutling, Inc.
Temecula, CA
1-951-252-4929
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