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Federal Criminal Defense

Counterfeit and Forgery Defense


What are Counterfeiting and Forgery?

Counterfeiting and forgery are crimes of deceit where the criminal act involves tricking another person into receiving property that appears from trustworthy source, but is actually an imitation. Like all fraud crimes, they use deceit for personal gain or to harm another person.

What is Counterfeiting?

In simple terms, counterfeiting is a type of fraud where you sell something by trying to imitate or make it pass as something else. Typically counterfeiting is done to exploit, “coat tail” or “free ride” on the trademarked brand or reputation for a certain quality of the product or service you are trying to imitate to earn money quickly. The fraudulent act is in misleading others into thinking they are buying something they are not.

What is Forgery?

In simple terms, forgery is a type of fraud where you alter or make a fake public record or legal document for personal gain or to harm another. It is a federal crime when you forge a financial obligation or security device of the United States, i.e. make fake hundred-dollar bills, or alter a check issued by the federal government, (e.g. tax refund check or economic impact payment under the CARES Act, etc.) to increase the amount you receive.

What is the Federal Statute Dealing with Counterfeiting?

18 U.S.C. § 2320 makes it unlawful for any person to intentionally do, attempt to do, or conspire to do any of the following:

  • Traffic in goods or services and knowingly use a counterfeit mark,
  • Traffic in labels or packaging of any nature, knowing that a counterfeit mark has been applied that will likely cause confusion, mistake, or to deceive,
  • Traffic in goods or services knowing that such good or service is a counterfeit military good or service the use or
  • Traffic in a counterfeit drug.

What is the Federal Statute Dealing with Forgery?

18 U.S.C. § 471 makes it unlawful for any person, with the intent to defraud, to:

  • Falsely make
  • Forge
  • Counterfeit, or
  • Alter

Any obligation or other security of the United States.

How Do You Prove Forgery and Counterfeiting?

In this section we provide a brief breakdown of what the government must show to prove both counterfeiting and forgery.

How Do You Prove Counterfeiting?

To convict you of counterfeiting, the federal government prosecutors must prove the of the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

What Would be an Example of Counterfeiting?

Picture this; let’s say, you’ve recently fallen into financial trouble, which is normal for most people at some point in their life and especially during COVID-19. You make the decision to sell some clothing you found that aren’t designer clothes, but they look like they are and even have the right logo. Still, the clothes are lower quality.

You then decide to sell these clothes to some friends in the neighborhood and their friends, and a person wants to return a dress you sold her because it started deteriorating after its very first wash. You refuse, telling her you don’t do exchanges. Furious, the person tells law enforcement.

After investigating, law enforcement later shows up to your house, arrest you, and you’re charged with federal counterfeiting charges for trafficking counterfeit goods.

How Do You Prove Forgery?

In typical forgery cases, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that

Proving you had the intent to defraud will be its most difficult challenge, because usually multiple alternative, and arguably more plausible, reasons exist why someone would alter or make allegedly forged money.

For example, someone may write the total amount of a stack on the bill on top of the stack, doodle on a bill, make “play money” not intended to be used as actual currency, and the list of possible reasons goes.

What Would be an Example of Forgery?

Instead of selling clothing in the above example, let’s say you start using fake twenty-dollar bills or checks issued by the federal government, like a tax refund or CARES Act stimulus check. You paid a friend with it, but later he comes back to complain that he was told it was fake when he tried to use it at a gas station. You tell him is it not your problem, and he reports you to law enforcement.

In that basic hypothetical, you would likely be investigated and later charged with forgery.

Like counterfeiting, forgery is a crime of fraud where you intend to deceive another into thinking something is more valuable than it actually is.

Who is Investigating Counterfeiting and Forgery?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are the most likely agencies investigating persons suspected of counterfeiting, as these two are the main law enforcement agencies of the federal government.

For forgery, you might also see the United States Secret Service (USSS) involved as they are the agency tasked with investigating forged currency and financial instruments issued by the federal government.

Another federal agency you might see investigating counterfeiting and forgery include the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), especially in light of the COVID-19 scams involving fraudulent checks and economic impact payments.

What are the Punishments For Counterfeiting and Forgery?

The punishment for counterfeiting and forgery most often include an assessment of heavy fines and a term of imprisonment, but sentencing varies with each case’s unique set of facts, the presiding judge, and factors considered under the federal sentencing guidelines, which you can read more about here.

Are Counterfeiting and Forgery Felonies?

Yes. Counterfeiting is a felony under federal law. Forgery is also a felony under federal law.

How Long is a Prison Sentence For Counterfeiting?

Generally, for a conviction of federal counterfeiting,

For second offenses, offenses that cause serious bodily injury, and offenses of counterfeit drugs, military services, or military goods,

For counterfeiting that results in the death of another person,

For second offenses of counterfeiting drugs, military services, or military goods,

How Long is a Prison Sentence For Forgery?

Generally, for a conviction of federal forgery,

What are the Minimum Sentences For Counterfeiting and Forgery?

Every sentence in a federal case is based on the federal sentencing guidelines, which considers a multitude of factors, such as prior criminal history, use of a gun, or position of trust, to calculate a recommended range that the federal judge may use as a guide for sentencing, however the presiding judge ultimately reserves final discretion at sentencing. Thus, as long as the judge provides a reasonable basis for their decision on record, the judge may make what is called a “departure from the guidelines” and sentence the defendant to a term of imprisonment outside the recommended range. You can learn more about the sentencing under the federal sentencing guidelines here.

Will I Be Required To Pay Back Restitution?

Possibly, as it depends on the charges you are convicted of and the unique facts of your case. Ultimately, however, final discretion remains with the judge presiding over sentencing. Factors that also will help determine whether restitution will be required include whether there are victims of the convicted charges, whether those victims suffered compensable harm, the federal sentencing guidelines, and many more.

Can the Government Seize my Assets During an Investigation? After Conviction?

Possibly, as it again depends on the charges alleged in the indictment and the unique facts of your case. As mentioned above, the charges and facts alleged in the indictment shape the scope of the entire criminal proceeding, including assets subject to pre-trial seizures and final forfeiture as part of sentencing, if convicted. You can learn more about the sentencing under the federal sentencing guidelines here.

Are there Any Defenses to Counterfeiting?

Yes, there are several defenses to a criminal counterfeit charge, which include:

Are There Any Defenses to Forgery?

Yes, there are several defenses to a criminal forgery charge, which include:

How is the Government Prosecuting Counterfeiting and Forgery Related to Covid-19?

See our news page for recent updates on COVID-19 fraud cases here.

Investigators Contacted me: What Do I Do?

You should only speak with law enforcement investigator regarding anything related to fraud, COVID-19 fraud, or any other related crime after you have spoken to a criminal defense lawyer. Period.

A common question from people involved in a criminal investigation is at what point can they finally clear their name and share their part of the story.

You have probably heard investigators, prosecutors, and others taking the situation out of context, bending the truth, and misunderstanding what actually happened. They are relying on people who are lying, and the whole situation is outrageous and humiliating for you.

You should know that the Fifth Amendment exists to protect anyone accused of a crime from incriminating themselves, and the truth is it takes only one split-second mistake to get unnecessarily tied up in a prolonged criminal investigation that will place a heavy financial and time-consuming burden for you and loved ones. Do not go swimming with sharks alone and without a cage.

You need to speak with a fraud or COVID-19 fraud defense attorney to obtain sound legal advice before you speak with federal fraud investigators, even if you think you have done nothing wrong.

You should contact a defense lawyer that has decades of experience handling criminal investigations before you engage with investigators. Balancing cooperation and protecting your constitutional rights and liberties requires a defense attorney that knows how to handle federal investigators.

When Should I Contact a Federal Fraud Defense Lawyer?

If you have been contacted or anticipate contact from federal fraud or COVID-19 fraud investigators, then you should contact and speak with a federal fraud and COVID-19 fraud defense lawyer to protect yourself, your freedom, and financial stability. You will not be able to talk yourself out of the crosshairs – you’ll only be wound up in a web of investigation tactics.

How Can Schiffer Law Firm Help me?

You need a fraud defense lawyer who knows what they’re doing and has a proven track record of experience defending federal fraud cases. Schiffer law firm has over four decades of experience defending clients involved in federal criminal investigations and clients accused of federal crimes. The fraud defense lawyers at Schiffer law firm know how to handle federal fraud cases from first contact by investigators to overturning wrongful convictions on appeal.

Does Schiffer Law Firm Only Defend People in Texas?

Schiffer law firm attorneys has and continues to defend people needing fraud defense attorneys nationwide. Nobody is too small, and nowhere is too far. If you think you need to speak to a fraud defense attorney, give us a call today.