Laws against forgery of documents have existed for almost as long as writing itself has existed. For most of that time, forgery techniques did not change very much. However, modern digital technology has significantly expanded opportunities for people to create fraudulent documents. Real estate transactions are making increasing use of “paperless” applications, but most areas of real estate remain firmly rooted in paper. This is particularly true of public real property records. While the media in California might report on how blockchain and other digital tools are changing the real estate business, yet real estate forgery is still mostly rooted in creating documents that could be printed onto paper.
Forgery Laws in California
California’s forgery statute, found in California Penal Code § 470 covers a broad range of activities. In addition to signing another person’s name to various documents without authority, the statute makes it a crime to intentionally “alter, corrupt, or falsify any record of any … conveyance” which includes real estate documents like grants or deeds. Under California Penal Code § 115, a person commits a felony when they knowingly file “any false or forged instrument” with a government agency, such as a county recorder’s office. State law allows county recorders to accept “digitized images, digital images, or both” of a recordable document for filing.
In fact, Section 502(c)(1) prohibits altering or deleting data stored on another person’s computer or computer network as part of “any scheme or artifice to defraud, deceive, or extort.” This can include attempts to falsify or forge digital documents affecting real estate transactions.
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