4 Useful Things Forging Documents Taught Me About Your World
Our world is full of official documents: ID cards, licenses, certificates, checks -- paper stuff with words printed on it basically rules your entire life. But if you can fake those things, you can essentially manipulate the fabric of society simply by being really, really good at copying stuff. Cracked sat down with a career forger purely to learn about his life experiences, and not at all in a vain attempt to finally get our SCUBA certification.
Note to all budding criminals, which we know compose a huge part of our readership: Do not try this at home. Please stick to the crimes for which you are qualified. Might we suggest rampant jaywalking and keeping undiapered horses within city limits?
How to Get Started in the Exciting Career of Forgery
You hear "forger" and it might conjure the mental image of a suave, sophisticated art thief masterfully schmoozing the societal elite to scam them out of millions of dollars. That guy looks like Clive Owen, his name is something cool like Ethan Snow, and he does it for the challenge. I'm a forger too ... but my name is Bob Morsch, and I mostly did it for the meth.
Once upon a time, I got pulled over. Let's say I was doing something totally innocent, like rushing kittens to a snuggle appointment. I'd just switched insurance companies, and I hadn't put the card for my new policy in my glove box yet. I got a ticket for that, so I went to court and brought my new insurance card with me. I showed them the date of issue to prove I'd been insured at the time of the stop, and they wound up canceling the ticket. That may have happened to you, and you just went about your day, comfortable in the fact that the system works. But me? I couldn't help but notice that all they did was look at the card and dismiss the ticket.
That was the first time I realized it's all just paper. Paper and words.
So I found some nice stock, matched the fonts, and faked my first document in Photoshop. My first sale was a dude I used to get high with who got pulled over sans insurance and ticketed for it. I offered to test my little scheme out on him. It worked. He got out of a ticket, I got a little bag of dope, and that was it: I was in business. Everybody expects something more in-depth from your criminal origin story, but there's no official college course for budding felons ... aside from maybe political science.
"I'm sorry, Advanced Lock-Picking is full. Have you considered Intro to Hot-Wiring?"
From that point on, I offered six months of phony insurance for $30. It was a way better deal than actual insurance, for everyone but the people my often-drugged-up clients hit. They probably took little solace from the fantastic savings I offered, no matter how much everybody loves a good deal.
Like any subculture, meth-heads tend to find each other and congregate, so as to better discuss the pertinent meth-related issues of the day. One of my druggie friends would tell the story of how I thwarted the law with nothing but my trusty clone tool to another druggie friend, and eventually word spread. There aren't many meth-heads with a fine eye for detail and, more importantly, a printer not already sold for meth. So I made my name, and the business opportunities started flooding in. And by "business" I mean "crime," and by "opportunities" I mean methamphetamines.
I was on my way to becoming the Wolf of 8-Ball Street.
How to Fake the Most Important Documents in the World
What's the most important thing to you in the world?
No, it's not "friendship." Haha, what are you, a Smurf?
It's your paycheck.
So it's pretty weird that paychecks are surprisingly easy to fake. There's a simple piece of printing software that small businesses buy, and it already comes with the paper you use to print those checks. So we got the software, nabbed account numbers from real paychecks, and then had something that worked as a free-money slip (for a little while).
IDs are tougher, because they have those little holograms. I managed to beat those by devising an insignia in Photoshop that looked, at least at a glance, slightly shiny and holographic. I'd actually attach it to the plastic laminate, and then put that over the front of the card. Whipping up the actual plastic of the ID card was a little tougher, so I just used the backs of real, expired IDs, and attached my fake one to the front. That's one of the reasons people on the Internet offer to buy your expired IDs.
Note: For the love of our legal defense fees, please do not try this. Or, if you do, tell them you learned it from BuzzFeed.
Also, send them your eventual mugshot. They'll want it for one of those "Nailed It" collections.
How to Turn Paper Into Goods and Services (but Mostly Drugs)
Being able to cash a check is slightly better than just running around with it, proudly waving it in the air. To turn a fake check into real money, you're going to need help from some shady people. Hey, you know where you can find a lot of shady people? The check-cashing industry. Practically every check-cashing business outside of a bank is staffed by at least one poorly groomed criminal. Banks, on the other hand, are staffed by criminals with much better grooming. I had connections in a convenience store that offered payroll-check cashing. We'd go in there with a $500 to $700 check that they'd run through their scanner. They'd ask for ID, which, wouldn't you know it? Got plenty of those. So it runs through the system just fine as long as you don't look too close, and we'd go into the bathroom and leave $200 under the trash can to encourage them not to squint too hard.
Honestly, it was probably one of the least offensive things done by people in that bathroom.
The payroll method was the most direct way to turn forgeries into cash, but it wasn't the only way. We'd take a small fake personal check to a 7-Eleven and, using the account number, we'd buy a carton of cigarettes. It would run through the machine once, and then it'd be verified in their system. As soon as it was, we'd just look for a store that used the same system, knowing that our phony money was good there. We'd buy a bunch of big-ticket items and sell them to pawn shops for 30 cents on the dollar or, for the sake of efficiency, we'd just straight-up trade them for drugs. Say what you will about them, but drug addicts rival the Germans in terms of sheer efficiency.
Though, unlike the Germans, it looks like addicts will eventually win their war.
Here's the pettiest forgery I ever committed: You know those books of $1 McDonald's gift cards? If not, congratulations on having awesome birthdays as a child. The rest of us got real familiar with the dollar menu. Anyway, those suckers are incredibly easy to fake. Everyone needs to eat, and surprise! Drug users love shitty fast food. So I'd trade $15 worth of McDonald's for 10 bucks of meth or, and this is slightly less appealing, I'd just get $15 worth of McDonald's.
Only time will tell which had worse effects on my long-term health.
How to Fuck It All Up and Get Arrested
I lived in Colorado Springs. That's where the Air Force Academy is located. Somebody, somehow -- the details are lost in a haze of some kind of strange smoke that causes forgetfulness -- came to me with a big list of retired officers: their ranks, addresses, and social security numbers. SSNs are especially useful, because with them and a Google's worth of info, you can take out a credit card.
Yes, obviously it's super messed up to fraudulently take out credit cards in the names of anyone, especially war heroes -- or at least the guys who knew those war heroes and maybe helped process some of their paperwork. Nobody's proud of this shit, but, and you can say it at home with me, kids: meth-am-phe-ta-mines! (Don't, uh ... don't actually make your kids say that.)
Or at least get them to sing it to the tune of "Yellow Submarine."
But eventually I slipped up. We paid runners (in meth -- shockingly, the leading currency of meth addicts) to do the purchasing with forged checks. They worked for about two weeks before it was time to get a new batch. Using other people to make the buy and staying under the two-week limit kept me safe ... for a while.
The first time I got arrested, I was trying to cash a check after the two-week "safe" zone had passed. I knew that account probably wasn't good anymore. But we were out of food, so I went to Safeway to buy $30 in groceries. I tried to pay with a fake check and got picked up for it. The weekend before we'd spent $1,500 on electronics with no problems -- one little week was the narrow window between "free everything!" and "jailed for a carton of Hot Pockets."
"Should we pick up some Lean Cuisines while we're here, too?"
"Nah. That's how they got Al Capone."
I served my time and learned my lesson. And while I worry that sharing all this might give someone the idea to follow in my footsteps, I feel everyone needs to know how utterly flimsy the systems we set up to protect our money and identities really are.
Bob now turns his creativity to less destructive ends, Like acting and writing and running a podcast studio here.
Robert Evans twits on his twitter, follow him here.
For more insider perspectives, check out 7 Strange Realities of BDSM '50 Shades of Grey' Leaves Out and 5 Bizarre Realities of Life at the Edge of Gaza.
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