What Does a Certified Forensic Document Examiner Do?

If you want to investigate a suspicious signature, you'll need the help of a forensic document examiner. Historically they're known as questioned document examiners and many of them still go by this title. Their job is to sort suspicious documents and create a report that can be used in a court of law. Read on to see what you'd investigate as a forensic document examiner and how you'd become certified. Schools offering Forensic Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Description

A forensic document examiner scrutinizes suspicious documents of all kinds in order to determine validity, originality, and authenticity. There are a number of clues that an examiner looks for in working with documents and varying means by which they authenticate a document.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Median Salary (2014) $55,360 per year (for forensic science technicians)
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 27% growth (for forensic science technicians)
On-the-Job Training Moderate
Similar Occupations Computer forensic investigators; crime scene photographers; latent print examiners

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties

Forensic document examiners use a variety of methods to investigate and establish the authenticity of documents. The following are key job duties and responsibilities for this career:

Handwriting Analysis

As a forensic document examiner, you'd determine the ownership of a handwritten document by looking for two things. Ideally, you'd have a comparison example belonging to the suspected individual. You'd then look for differences and variations between the verified sample and the document in question. A difference might indicate that the suspect didn't write the note and give clues to a group or class of people to which the forger belongs. It is important to note that forensic document examiners compare and contrast visual details, but they don't examine handwriting for possible personality traits. That would be the work of a graphologist, and that type of testimony is not allowed in court. Graphologists do not qualify for forensic examiner certification.

Finding Forgeries

Some of the most common ways someone might try to forge a signature include cut-and-paste work, tracing, and freehand attempts. Forgers will also use a fictitious individual's name and make up a signature hoping nobody notices the individual never existed. It's also considered forgery for someone to alter his or her own signature, so that person can later claim that he or she never signed the document. As an examiner, you'd use these clues combined with handwriting analysis to determine possible forgery.

Altering and Obliterating

Have you ever read a document and seen an otherwise empty page that said something about the section being left intentionally blank? If a copy of the document turns up later with that section filled in, it would be considered an alteration. Obliteration refers to when a document has been altered to say something entirely different, but the obliterator tried to make it match the original text. As an examiner, you'd use infrared cameras to detect anything suspicious, including differences in ink.

Required Education and Certification Information

In order to become a certified forensic document examiner, you'll first need a bachelor's degree. There aren't any majors in forensic document examination, but you can take classes in forensic disciplines, like criminal justice, during your undergrad years. Along with the degree, the Board of Forensic Document Examiners also requires practical training, experience, and letters attesting to your experience and ethics.

The test for certification is in two parts. The written exam portion is a series of multiple-choice questions regarding different aspects of an examiner's work. The second portion is a demonstration of your ability as an examiner; during this portion of the test, in addition to answering the questions, you must also explain how you reached your conclusions. Certification is good for five years and to renew it, you'll have to pass another exam and qualify with continuing education credits.

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