Document forgery is a constantly evolving criminal field. 20 th Century America was the golden age of the forger. Here are 3 of the most infamous document forging swindlers that graced (or sullied) that fascinating time. It is worth noting that all three of these master forgers were discovered at some point in their careers and spent at least some time in
prison. We might never know who the best forgers were.
Joseph Cosey is an absolutely towering figure in the forger’s (fictional) hall of fame. He is best remembered for his incredibly convincing forgeries of documents penned by historical figures. These included letters written by Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and a whole host of other American pantheon members.
Cosey began his forgery career after seeing – and stealing – a pay warrant signed by Benjamin Franklin while on a visit to the library of congress. He meticulously copied Franklin’s signature and began selling forged documents to collectors around the country.
Part of the reason why Cosey managed to scam so many people was his careful attention to material detail. He would treat paper to simulate age using a mixture of chemicals. Despite this, he was captured and sentenced at least once in the 1930s.
Cosey’s fame spread so far that his forgeries developed a monetary value of their own. Notable collectors are proud to own Cosey works – although probably not if they thought that they were purchasing a Lincoln or Franklin original.
Frank Abagnale Jr
Frank Abagnale Jr currently works as a security consultant helping companies to choose the right fraud management solution. It wasn’t always this way. Frank was one of the most elusive and daring fraudsters in history. He swindled millions of dollars from banks using check fraud, pretended to be a Pan Am pilot to get free flights, and managed to work as an attorney – all without any qualifications and all before he had reached the age of 20.
Abagnale traveled the world and lived the classic 20th Century swindler’s life – sharp suits, daring escapes, and long nights forging checks using dangerous chemicals. He was eventually caught by the FBI and sent to prison. He was released after only five years of his sentence under the condition that he helped the FBI counter check fraud.
Mark Hofmann pulled off one of the most daring forgeries of the late 20th Century when he approached the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints with documents that seemed to completely rewrite Mormon history and have powerful consequences on the faith of the millions of Mormons worldwide. The Mormon church paid Hofmann for the documents – which were elaborate forgeries. Hofmann, however, was found out. He murdered two people in order to hide his crime. It was for his murders, as much as his forgery, that he received a sentence of life in prison. Hoffman was a master forger but not a particularly nice person in any sense.