The crimes may not have changed, but the science of analysis has.
Questioned Document – Altering Cheques.
Fraudulent documents come in many forms… Sale deeds, Identity cards, Wills, Paper money, and so on. A Cheque is one such commonly counterfeited document. In forensic science, such documents are called as a questioned document.
Cheques are made with security features for the identification of legitimacy. While examining counterfeit cheques, there are overt (visible) features such as watermarks, logos, serial numbers, A/c numbers, etc. While these features, with an in-depth study, can be replicated to a certain extent by fraudsters, the covert (concealed) security features such as watermarks, color system, UV visible features, and micro lettering that are ingrained in the cheques require sophisticated attempts.
Cheques can also be tampered with in the form of erasures, overwriting, and termed as alterations. Erasures mean the removal of any writing or character from the document. For example, using a sharp tool like a blade to scrape the ink off a paper. Overwriting is writing something on top of pre-existing characters. Scratches, scribbles, or writings on top of previous writing are also considered as tampering with the cheque and will render it invalid. Alterations are changes or modifications made to the material. These alterations can be made with different writing instruments, sharp tools, etc.
When a cheque has been tampered with or being questioned, particularly with civil or criminal litigations, it is referred to as disputed or questioned document. These questioned cheques are then submitted to a forensic lab for examination of the writings, signatures, and the document as a whole under various lighting/visualization instruments.
Most fraudulent cheques are suspected or caught by financial institutes, such as banks, who then forward them to document examiners for analysis and verification to Forensic labs is required.
Truth Labs has examined numerous varieties of alterations involving cheques. In one such instance, it was found that high skill and planning was employed by internal employees of a jewelry store to use chemical erasing technique which were detected in our labs. Many instances of alterations in the amount written as numbers and differences in inks used for writing are easily detected and analyzed by our experts. In some instances, the cheque had all the overt security features to make it appear authentic. But on closer examination using visualization tools, the experts were able to identify the absence of security features, such as the watermark, holograms, color system, paper quality, ultraviolet light features, pantographic image, and microscopic features.
Our questioned document reports have assisted numerous financial institutions, individuals, courts and police identify and prevent unlawful transactions which saved the banks and the victimized customers from losing their money.
The act of misleading an insurance company to receive insurance benefits or payouts to which one is not entitled is referred to as Insurance Fraud. Insurance Fraud is a major issue for the insurance sector, as it results in significant financial losses and leads to higher rates for policyholders. Fraudsters often resort to fabricating evidence to support their false claims. In the realm of insurance investigations, uncovering the truth behind insurance claims is of utmost importance. Insurance investigations play a critical role in ensuring the validity of insurance claims and combating fraud. To ascertain the legitimacy and accuracy of insurance claims, investigators employ a meticulous approach.
Insurance companies often turn to Forensic Investigators for cases that raise suspicion even after conducting their own due diligence activities. One crucial aspect of forensic investigation is trace evidence analysis, where physical evidence in the form of trace materials and minute features can provide tangible and unbiased information about the incident. By examining tiny particles and materials present at the scene, trace evidence analysis can effectively expose inconsistencies and falsehoods, shedding light on the background of the incident. These trace elements encompass a wide range of microscopic materials found at the scene, such as glass fragments, paint chips, fibers, soil, cloth, paper, and other microscopic substances. Through the examination of trace evidence, investigators can establish connections between assets, individuals, and situations. They can evaluate whether the incident aligns with the physical evidence and verify or debunk the veracity of the claims made by the claimants.
The specific types of trace evidence, their conditions, and their positioning serve as indicators of the events that transpired during the incident. For example, the presence of hydrocarbons in a fire accident may indicate foul play. The type of trace evidence discovered at incident scenes varies depending on the case and the nature of the accident. Discrepancies between the alleged event or claim and the presence of incriminating trace evidence can raise suspicions, prompting further investigation into such claims. This helps investigators and insurance companies identify false claims.
The investigation using trace evidence must be conducted with great care, as the quantity of the samples is often minuscule, and the quality is typically perishable. The extent and quality of the analysis heavily rely on the proper collection and preservation of the samples. Once the trace evidence is collected, it is sent for physico-chemical (PC) analysis, which utilizes various instrumentation techniques such as microscopy, spectroscopy, chromatography, and more, to provide qualitative and quantitative analysis.
Trace evidence analysis plays a vital role in revealing the circumstances of the incident and enables investigators to assess the validity of insurance claims. Through meticulous analysis and interpretation of trace elements, connections are established, authenticity is confirmed, events are reconstructed, and fraudulent activity is exposed. Collaborating with forensic specialists and employing cutting-edge scientific methodologies empowers insurance investigators and surveyors, leading to fair claim settlements.
Truth Labs has been at the forefront of assisting public and private sector insurance firms in upholding integrity, defending honest policyholders, and ensuring that justice is served. By utilizing trace evidence analysis as an effective tool in numerous investigations, Truth Labs has saved billions of public and private funds from fraudulent activities.
Fingerprint Analysis – Creative modus operandi of fraud.
This is an interesting case of fraud through impersonation in an examination hall where Truth Labs was called upon to provide expert fingerprint analysis services.
A young man, a Sub-inspector (SI) aspirant, turned to his brother when the SI qualifying exam became a little too daunting. These examinations are usually are a part of the public services commission who conduct the preliminary qualifying exam that determines the cognitive and logical ability of a person for a particular public servant position. Truth Labs upon request by the investigating authority, examined a case in which the brief history was that an individual, ‘A’, felt that he on his own could not qualify for this exam; and asked his brother ‘B’ for help. Normally, when your sibling asks you for help, he/she would tutor them. But in this instance, brother ‘B’ went a step further to make certain ‘A’ qualified. ‘B’ gave the exam instead.
Now, you share a number of things with your family… clothes, food, last name, and a certain portion of your DNA, but what you don’t share with anyone, (even if you had a twin) is your fingerprint. And that is where a fingerprint analysis by the forensic experts can prevent fraud and crime.
Major qualifying or selection exams like the NEET, UPSC, etc. employ numerous measures to ensure a fair, legal, and safe examination process. CCTVs also assist in ensuring no academic misconduct occurs while taking the exam, metal detectors and vigilance teams secure the premise, and identity verifiers are used during registration process and cross checked during commencement of the exam to prevent identity fraud or impersonation.
In this unfortunate instance, the registered candidate, ‘A’ unsure of his capabilities to qualify for the exam, allowed his brother ‘B’ to go take the exam. The registration documents contained the details of brother ‘A’ which meant ‘B’ would have to take up extra caution to avoid being detected when taking the exam. On the day of the exam, everything seemed to be looking up for the brothers, where the whole scheme went without a hitch, and ‘B’ impersonated ‘A’. Except, that the truth had its way out. Unbeknownst to the brothers, someone in the exam hall suspected the brothers of being up to something questionable.
A complaint was lodged with law enforcement, and an investigation was launched into this case. Impersonation is a serious offense and an allegation as such a kind being made concerning individuals trying to qualify for an exam that allowed them to be a government servant was a serious matter. The footage from the CCTV of the exam hall was reviewed, but the suspect had cleverly avoided all angles of detection with his head hanging low and not facing any of the cameras. The only other way to determine authenticity was an inspection of the biometrics (individual identification characteristics). The investigative team approached a forensic lab with the records of the fingerprints of the ‘Registered’ candidate and the fingerprints collected in the examination hall before the exam commenced, but there they met another hurdle. The prints collected in the exam hall appeared smudged, and hence not fit for examination. This halted the investigation as there was no other way to determine the facts of the case.
Nonetheless, the investigating officer did not stop there. In his service, he had become familiar with the expertise available at Truth Labs and turned to us as the case’s last resort. With the certified photocopy of the fingerprint record in hand, he requested assistance from the Fingerprint experts at Truth Labs to uncover the truth behind this case. Was the print on the examination register the same as the fingerprint on the registration form?
With an experience of nearly 40 years of serving the government, the Truth Labs fingerprint experts were able to identify ridge characteristics that were missed by the previous examiners. With extreme caution and precision, the Truth Labs fingerprint experts were able to discern that the two prints in question were not the same. With the help of this report, the investigating officer was able to take action on the impersonating brothers and his accomplices.
Not only did the identification of the difference in fingerprint help catch an impersonating individual, but it also prevented a miscreant from becoming a part of a force that serves justice and upholds the law.
No two persons are identical in terms of their thumb fingerprints and DNA fingerprints as most of us know. Similarly, no two individual handwritings or signatures are alike to those who are proficient in forensic handwriting analysis. Such persons are called Experts in Questioned Documents (QD) or Handwriting Experts, who possess a Master’s Degree in Science of Physics/Chemistry/Forensic Science, etc. along with long years of experience in handling various cases of signature forgery from Courts/Police/Corporates/Banks/Insurance companies/Individuals examining documents such as sale deed, will, cheques, promissory notes etc.
While hand practiced forgeries are common in many forged documents, technology driven forgery of signature or handwriting is known as “Transplantation”. In other words, hand written matter created by scanning the needed parts of the written content, stored in a memory of a computer device, positioned in location/place/spot where needed to appear, which could be saved or be printed using an appropriate printer like colour laser printer, etc. to result in a document, sharp enough so as to appear as near original.
If such questioned documents are referred to the Government Forensic Laboratories such as Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) or State Forensic Science Laboratory (SFSL) or reputed independent laboratories like Truth Labs, the first non-profit lab in India, the experts will detect the transplanted forgery in a way described below which is the subject matter for discussion in this blog.
Such mischief can easily be detected by superimposing the signatures one upon the other by capturing images or photographs of the original and questioned signatures perfectly fit as though looking as the original itself. The writing characteristics such as speed, slant, pen movement, skill, alignment, spacing, size & relative proportion of letters/characters, style, arrangement of letters/characters, pen pressure and line quality (depending on the quality of the document) do not change. In such cases, with one single instrument “Video Spectral Comparator (VSC)” which is the magic wand that finds the forgery just by flipping the document containing the suspected forgery inside the video spectral cabinet and examines the forged and original ones side by side. Superimposing one on the other can reveal that both are identical. In forensic handwriting science, the basic principle is if “TWO HANDWRITINGS” are identical, it must be a forgery-thereby detecting the superimposed signature/writing is a forged one.
To illustrate the technique, details of a case recently handled by Truth Labs is given below:
A gentleman in grief approached Truth Labs to seek our expert’s opinion on a document claimed to be disputed with his forged signatures. A case was registered accordingly after collecting his admitted (signatures written by the author in his normal course of life) and specimen (signatures taken at our lab in the presence of a scientific staff) signatures. During the routine course of examination, few disputed signatures and few admitted signatures were found to be identical from all dimensions, which was confirmed through the observations made using VSC as they were superimposing one one another. In the midst of report generation, the client rushed to our lab with another document and asked us to consider this new document (b) and ignore the previously submitted disputed document (a). Upon preliminary examination, apart from the signatures of the client, rest all of the contents in (a) and (b) were identical. This raised a doubt why of all the signatures in document (b) and all other signatures are different and tallying with document (a). On careful study, one signature on a page could not be manipulated by cutting and pasting or morphing by the client because the signature was put on a security stamp impression which he could not have separated for manipulation. That was when it was gathered that the main culprit in this case was the client himself. When he realised that the report might not be in his favour, he later submitted another copy by digitally morphing, signing again and taking a black & white xerox (to hide any morphing marks) copy for examination. In order to prove himself innocent, he committed the same crime twice.
In conclusion, the most trickiest cases can be solved with the correct technique and proficient personnel as “No Question remains Unanswered at Truth Labs!”.
Arsonists and Murderers have no compassion for their victims. They only care about the endorphins released or personal satisfaction that they derive from the heinous act that they have committed. Only to hide their involvement, do they try to bamboozle the investigators by altering or destroying the crime scenes as well as the identity of their prey. They use various means to tamper with the evidence by either using weapons or hiding the evidence or corrupting the evidence using chemicals like acid/bleach or fuels like petrol/kerosene to set fire.
Everything that a flame touches, it destroys!
Burning is an effective tool to erase evidence like clothing, paper, fingerprints, electronic devices, etc. Nothing is fireproof, not even the human body. Fire is a very destructive force, capable of great damage. Burnt human parts can be found in a range of situations, from archaeological funerary urns, to aeroplane crashes, bomb blasts, to volcanic eruptions, as well as fire accidents (natural, accidental as well as intentional).
The human body is made up of soft and hard tissues, and fire will have a dramatic effect on both. Fire can be fatal in different ways, but the most common are either due to the heat or suffocation from the smoke produced.
The heat of the fire will cause significant damage to the body. The fire will cause the soft tissues to contract, which causes the skin to tear and the fat and muscles to shrink. The internal organs will also shrink. The muscles contract due to burning and this causes the joints to flex. The heat will also cause significant changes to the bone. The skeleton does not burn in a uniform way. Some bones will burn at a higher intensity than others due to factors such as body fat distribution, proximity to the heat source, etc. Quite often the peripheral bones of the hands and feet will not be burned to such a high intensity as those at the centre of the body, where most fat is located. Body fat acts as a source of fuel and people with more fat will burn at a higher intensity than very thin people.
Pathological evidence can also be observed in burned remains, including joint disease, or cut marks. This is useful for forensic contexts because perpetrators often think that burning a body will eliminate evidence of trauma (such as knife wounds or dismemberment), but this is not always the case. a DNA fingerprint can survive in the bone but it is often degraded.
In a desolate part of a town, some passersby noticed some foul smells, and noxious vapours emerging from near a brick wall. They lodged complaints with the police about the smell and fumes. Upon visiting, the police discovered that the burning smell and fumes were emerging from something resembling a funeral pyre. They managed to douse the flames and saw charred human remains. The remains were sent for postmortem, wherein the Autopsy Surgeon identified that the remains were of two females, one aged about 18-20 years and the other aged about 30-35 years. The police put out a brief bulletin, describing the clothing worn by the victims, along with their physical characteristics. Based on the bulletin, a middle-aged gentleman approached the police, claiming that the victims might be his sister and niece.
The police sent the partially burnt bone fragments and charred muscle pieces for DNA fingerprinting to Truth Labs, along with the blood sample of the middle-aged man. Truth Labs examined and analyzed the scorched samples, by re-suspending the overcooked muscles and could clearly establish that the elder victim was the middle-aged gentleman’s sister. We could also clearly establish that the two victims were mother and daughter. We could give closure and peace to this family.
For a forensic science company, fingerprint analysis is a key service area. However, getting fingerprints is an art an science by itself. Let us know a little more on the science behind how fingerprints are formed.
By the principle of Locard’s exchange, any surface when touched by any object or subject such as human fingers, it would leave a pattern behind, discernible and seen on smooth surfaces such as Metal, Glass, etc. but to understand why our fingers leave an impression on such surfaces, we need to look into what these impressions are made of.
To begin with, our palm fingers are not smooth in nature and consist of friction ridges that develop during the 6th month of gestation in the mother’s womb and form into grooves and valleys on the tips of our fingers. In these grooves and valleys which looks similar to furrows in a ploughed field which acts as deposit of fine particles and moisture from the secretions from the eccrine and sebaceous glands including sebum, polypeptides (albumin, keratins, dermcidin and cathepsin D) salts of chloride, sodium, potassium, ammonia, calcium, sulphide, magnesium, etc. which are part of objects human handle. As such, when investigators or fingerprint experts develop prints for fingerprint analysis, the chemicals used interact with the aforementioned secretions and fine particles give rise to visible friction ridges.
Now, that we understood how fingerprints are formed out of multiple substances that gets fingerprint deposited on the ridge surfaces, let’s see why they stick to glass. The degree of deposition also depends on the porosity of the surface. The depth of penetration of the deposited compounds is directly proportional to the support porosity of the surface. As the secretions would be absorbed into the porous surfaces to a higher extent, the fingerprint formed on the surface would not be prominent. As glass is a lesser porous surface, the secretions adhere to the surface. Glass is hydrophilic, whereas secretions are amphiphilic and with their hydrophilic properties create hydrogen bongs with the silicate in glass. This leaves behind prominent fingerprints which are then used for verification or analysis.
Thus, impressions of fingerprints are formed invariably on glass surfaces whenever anyone touches, sometimes visible or partially visible or invisible.
Truth Labs has similarly developed and examined fingerprint impressions on metal surfaces (like keys, locks, almihars, utensils, door knobs, etc.), wooden surfaces (like tables, cupboards, doors, etc.), ceramic surfaces (like tiles, wash basins, cups, etc.) and other surfaces (like white board, computer screens, spectacles, pens, car and etc.)
Investigating Insurance Fraud.
Accounts of an incident from the word of a witness and a victim is considered a key evidence for an investigation. But it is paramount to test the reliability of the said statement, and ensure the facts align with the presented evidences. However, in some cases, the individuals not only provide murky statements, but intentionally make an effort and to bulldoze the case. Typically, this is prevalent in cases where the victims/ witnesses are involved in underhanded activities that could be uncovered by the investigation. Such cases are often found in the insurance claim investigations that are referred to Truth Labs involving insurance fraud.
Truth Labs was approached with a case concerning insurance claim by a garment and textile proprietary firm owned by a formidable woman. A force so reckoning, even investigators could have a chill down their spines in her presence.
In a two story building, the fire had affected floor 1 in an isolated manner. The investigators were shown a scattered pattern of scorched floor along with disturbed furniture and a soupcon of debris deposition not corresponding with the insured claim of destroyed goods.
The victim in question was the owner of the store, who claimed that sometime on a Sunday a significant portion of her stock was burned down and she faced a substantial loss. Unfortunately, there were no records of inventory or any such material evidence as the only available computer, lacked a motherboard and hard disk. Adding to the inconvenience, the CCTV footage for the period of fire was also to be not recorded due to no electricity and the corresponding DVR was sent to a government forensic lab by the police.
But it wasn’t the minimal evidence that hindered our investigators, which was not nearly as impeding as the looming presence of the owner. The interviewing of the witnesses was severely influenced by the owners and her sway over the neighbouring vendors was astonishing. They sounded reluctant and deliberately confused about the events surrounding the fire.
Upon investigation, it was noted that the fire travel path and the burn patterns were unusual and the positioning of the items and clothes as narrated by the insured was found to be discordant with the physical trace of the fire. The reconstructive inference excluded possibilities of electrical or accidental fires. The physicochemical analysis of the debris reported hydrocarbons indicating the presence of petrochemicals. The witness statements were flimsy and uncorroborated with each other.
All in all, the evidences found indicated foul play which was concluded that the fire which has multiple points of origin was initiated by human ignition. Our report then helped the insurance company close their case in a swift and efficient manner
Questioned Document – Checking documents through the ink used.
A very specialized area of forensics is the inspection and analysis of a questioned document through the determination of the ink used. Finding the age of the ink used is difficult but not impossible at least in some cases with adequate evidence for comparative analysis available to understand the backdrop. So, let’s look at what ink, paper, environment in which the writings were stored, etc., and based on that, how we could attempt ageing it.
Ink is said to have been developed by the Egyptians and the Chinese around the same time in the 23rd century. The components ranging from dyes and pigments mixed with stabilizer polymers, liquid solvents, fillers.
To determine the age of ink the factors to be considered are ink composition, paper properties and exposure to light and humidity. It is nearly impossible to control or even know the storage conditions for documents.
One of the techniques to determine age is to identify the ink’s composition. By doing so, a comparative analysis is run with the manufacturer’s composition which can be estimated for the year of manufacturing. So, if a document is claimed to be made in 1997 but the ink on the page matches with components manufactured in 2007, the document is fraudulent.
Gas chromatography- Mass spectroscopy is the current widely accepted method for testing age of ink, but this would involve a portion of the written ink to be destroyed in the process. Hence, this is not recommended or commonly performed for cases.
Determination of the age of paper is an approximation process that is still experimental. The various components in the paper can be analyzed for their paper dating. The methods being experimented on include colour analysis of the paper for gray level, RGB and HSV analysis. Optical Brightening Agents in Paper can also be analyzed to check for the period in which the document was produced. Small-Angle Neutron Scattering (SANS) can be used for measuring nano-sized water-filled pores of cellulose fiber on the papers.
There are various other methods, but the cost to result ratio is not promising for a commercial purpose. In legal scenarios, we require an accurate result, and since that is not possible, Age of Ink and Paper is a futile exercise.