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Jeruba's avatar

Suspected forgery: do I do something or leave it alone?

Asked by Jeruba (51543points) June 16th, 2010

This is a real-life ethical dilemma. Please read the facts below before offering advice.

1. My relative Roy has two daughters, Ellie and Sarah, a year apart in age. He gained custody of them in his divorce 7 years ago. In my opinion his wife did the right thing to get out before he hurt her physically.
2. A year ago Ellie graduated from college. I sent her a card and a check for $100. I never received a thank-you, but wrote it off to youthful thoughtlessness.
3. Sarah has just graduated from college. I received an announcement hand-addressed by Roy, with his return address—and a small envelope enclosed (just big enough for a check folded in half), addressed to her at his home.
4. Neither daughter is living at home at present.
5. I don’t have Sarah’s current address with her boyfriend in another city. Her official address is her mother’s home in another state, but she isn’t there.
6. A week ago I learned that Roy is seriously in the depths of alcoholism, desperate and suicidal. I had no idea. He is apparently an angry and abusive drunk and his daughters are afraid of him. He’s unable to hold a job. I don’t know what he’s living on.
7. Before writing a check (to send with a graduation card—not in Roy’s tiny envelope) to Sarah, I looked up my check of a year ago to Ellie just to make sure it was cashed. Seeing it for the first time, I was shocked. The endorsement does not look like the signature of a 20-year-old girl. In fact it looks like Roy’s scrawly handwriting, similar to the way he wrote her name with his and Sarah’s on a Christmas card two years ago.

It would be easy to trap Roy by sending a small check made out to Sarah in the prepared envelope and sending another directly to Sarah in care of her mother, and comparing the signatures. Forgery and theft of checks are a serious business.

Should I? Should I go further and make it a legal matter?

It could kill him. It could save his life. It could tear the family apart. The family is already torn apart. In my mind the only reason for doing it is that it could force him into sobriety and a new way of life when he has reportedly refused all help. I know that in some locations alcoholics may be given a choice of going into rehab instead of serving time, or instead of serving a full sentence.

But I see that taking such an action could do more harm than good. And this is at the other end of the country and could mean a lot of expense for me if I had to travel and stay there (would I?), a burden I’m not really prepared to handle. I also see that he is apparently forging his daughters’ names on checks and stealing their money, and that should not be condoned by silence. However, even an open accusation without legal action could precipitate an unmanageable crisis, especially for the daughters, who are innocent victims.

Do I have an obligation, and if so, to whom?

Should I just let it lie?

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47 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

Write him off, and find the daughters to deal with them directly. Your relationship is with them, not him, and if the one was cheated out of her $100, offer her a replacement. What’s the point of prosecuting a sick man? How will that help the girls or anyone else?

janbb's avatar

I’m with @dpworkin on this.

CMaz's avatar

Me too. But I would let him know (one on one) you are on to him.

envidula61's avatar

A legal case for such a small amount would go to small claims court. That wouldn’t help your cause. If you want to help him, urge him to get treatment. Otherwise bug out. Really, there’s probably nothing you can do. Let him lose his house and everything else. They say that some people won’t do anything until they hit absolute bottom.

RocketSquid's avatar

It sounds like Roy’s situation is already pretty desperate doesn’t have much chance of getting any better. Bringing this up to the authorities may actually help Roy out in the long run and possibly his daughters as well.

If it’s just the checks, it’s also a relatively small matter legally speaking. It’d be better to do it sooner than later before he does do something that could warrant a much longer jail sentence.

Even if you don’t bring it up to the authorities themselves, at least consult with the daughters. They, if anyone, have the most right to make the decisions here.

dpworkin's avatar

You can’t fix him, nor can your interventions. He must fix himself.

lilikoi's avatar

What a difficult situation.

Personally, I don’t think I would pursue legal action against him for forgery. I would send checks to them directly somehow and alert both the mother and the daughters what you suspect the father is doing in case other money of their is mysteriously disappearing. If they want to pursue legal action, well that is their right.

It would be great if this guy could get some help. I’m not sure how you can help someone like that see the light. I do know that it is possible for people to recover from situations like this and go on to live full, healthy and enlightened lives, but unfortunately can’t offer any advise. I don’t think a suit for forgery is the right approach. I’d fear that it would drive him into depression and further alcohol abuse.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m with @dpworkin also.

What a horrible situation. At least the girls are getting out of the house now. Still, that does not help that I assume you feel sadness about Roy and the state he has gotten himself into.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I agree with the walk awayers. Plus you could set him off in ways no one can predict, and he could come after you for messing with him. He’s not your problem now, don’t make him a problem.

augustlan's avatar

I don’t think it’s a big enough legal issue for him to get forced into rehab, sadly. I wouldn’t pursue it legally, but would try to let the mother and daughters know what’s happened. He may be siphoning off many gifts intended for the girls, so at the very least they might be able to put a stop to that.

tinyfaery's avatar

Chances are turning him in would do more harm than good. Is he your relative by blood? I ask because if he is, you can ask another family member what they think or maybe you and another can think of another way to help this guy.

Jeruba's avatar

Yes, I’m afraid he is a blood relative, and I feel some responsibility toward him. At the big family wedding I attended last week (he was not there), quite a few relatives mentioned receiving Sarah’s graduation announcement. I am assuming they all contained little highly recognizable preaddressed envelopes.

Trillian's avatar

You call Roy a relative, but do not elaborate. Ok, I can respect your desire for privacy.
You seem to know the possible outcomes already.
Let me ask you a couple questions instead. What do you want to happen if you take action? How involved are you willing to get if the fecal matter hits the spinning blades? What are the personal risks to you and your immediate family? What are the potential benefits? Would you be alone in this endeavor or are there other family members willing to become involved? How much does this man mean to you? How much do his daughters mean to you?
I would say for you to carefully weigh the risks versus the benefits and then decide. You must be clear, before acting, on what you want the outcome to be and how far you’re willing to go to see that happen.
Good luck, and please keep us posted.

janbb's avatar

@Jeruba If you feel this deception is being used on other people too; you do have more of a responsibility to deal with it, although I still don’t feel I’d get directly involved with Roy. Maybe you can talk to his e-wife or daughter about what you suspect and they can get the mail forwarded if anything is sent?

ItsAHabit's avatar

This is a criminal matter. Having him jailed might help him sober up and help him get his act together. If he wants to stop drinking, he can. His behavior is completely unacceptable and criminal.

tinyfaery's avatar

Yikes! Personally, I wouldn’t bother making this a legal issue, but you might want to express your concern to other relatives. It would be a big hassle for you and it is unlikely having this guy arrested will be the life changing event he needs to sober up. It’s been some time since the alleged crime. It might be too late to do anything about it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

You see? This is a perfect example of why I get all tingly when I read your posts.
I would let it pass. There would be too much collateral damage if you involved law enforcement. The family could be destroyed worse than it already is. Both girls will be out on their own soon. When they are gone he can hit rock bottom without taking them down.
Has he asked you for money, yet? He will.

JLeslie's avatar

I might call the mother, his ex, and let her know that you are concerned that her oldest may not have received your graduation check. Not sure. I would worry that one sister may be getting a gift when the other didn’t, because of the circumstance. Or, maybe as Ellie directly? Not sure. I guess I might also give other relatives a heads up, I’m sure the word will spread quickly that they should send all gifts to some alternate address then what is provided. I’m sure the ex, Ellie, and Sarah know what their father is capable of, but what I would care about as a relative is that the girls get my gifts as intended.

BoBo1946's avatar

@Jeruba my vote goes with @dpworkin ! the amount of money is not worth the trouble!

Jeruba's avatar

Thanks for all responses so far. I appreciate every comment and opinion. It’s always hard to get perspective when you’re involved somehow.

I’m glad that some people see I am not concerned about the amount of money or interested in prosecution for its own sake. My thought is that this documentable evidence could serve as leverage to get him to a place where he can get help. Also the fact that he may be currently, right now, this month, scamming members of a large family who have no suspicion of the state of things is a bigger concern than something that happened a year ago, which I mentioned because it is a tipoff.

tadpole's avatar

i wouldn’t get involved with him….alcoholics are unpredictable….and they only get better when they want to….just as you feel responsibility towards him because he is a relative, so you might find that getting involved might encourage him to look to you for support etc…if he is violent as well that is another reason to stay well clear….

but i would try to track down his daughters and check they are ok, and possibly enquire amongst the other relatives if you are concerned whether they are involved…

i don’t think that legal proceedings would help…it might turn him against you, and although you are trying to help him by getting him to face up to things, i don’t think he will welcome it unless you know for certain he wants help….

JLeslie's avatar

I’m thinking if he is stealing from his daughters money he is pretty close to falling completely apart. I mean that is pretty bad. If the family catches on and sends their gifts directly to the girls, then it will be one less infusion of money that he was looking forward to. Hopefully, it will bring him a little closer to his “bottom” and you will sort of have indirectly helped him realize he needs help, if he ever does realize. At least the family will not be enabling him in any way without them even knowing it.

Does Roy have a sibling you might be close to? Who you could voice your concern if you feel like you need to do something? You probably lack quite a bit of information I think on the situation to be effective. For example, I had a friend who knew she was an alcoholic, had put herself into rehab, and fell of the wagon again, and then put herself in again, her marriage fell apart, she lost custody of her kids, all while she wanted to get better. From the outside it was impossible to know her intention and everything that was going on.

MissAusten's avatar

I agree with the “walk away” advice. It will probably be best to send any correspondence directly to the daughters.

Now, I will tell my own experience with reporting someone for check fraud. My husband subcontracted some work out a few years ago to a friend of a friend. I’ll call him Ryan. Ryan was out of work, but a talented graphic design artist. When he finished the graphic design work for my husband, he was given painting jobs and made a decent amount of money. My husband gradually let him be in charge of a big job with a condo association, which Ryan completely screwed up even after being given a second chance. He would lie about work he hadn’t done so he could get paid. My husband had no choice but to remove him from that job. We were remodeling our house, so he hired Ryan to work there until he found another job. One afternoon, Ryan went down to my husband’s studio to get more paint and also helped himself to two checks. He made the checks out to himself, forged my husband’s signature, and cashed them for a total of $500. He then went back to his apartment, trashed the place, and immediately left the state.

My husband contacted the police, who were not the least bit interested in pursuing the matter. They pretty much said they had better things to do. After a couple more complaints, they said the most they could do was issue an arrest warrant but that unless Ryan returned to the state and happened to be pulled over or arrested for something else, they wouldn’t go after him. It was very frustrating to find out that we could be the victim to something illegal but not have the police even pretend to care.

So, you can attempt to involve the authorities but with something in another state and on such a small scale, they may not do anything at all with the information. On the other hand, you might have more luck with the authorities in the state where your relative lives since that’s where he committed the forgery. I don’t know what the statute of limitations is on check forgery, but if it’s more than a year you’re out of luck.

I do think you should gently encourage other family members to avoid sending gifts to your relative and instead send them directly to the girls. At least you could protect them from unwillingly donating money to Roy’s problems.

jazmina88's avatar

@Jeruba You want to save people, like me, and sometimes it cant be done. Tell your family of your concerns.

tadpole's avatar

@MissAusten that’s kind of disappointing that he leaves the state and the police aren’t at all interested in dealing with it…this state to state involvement that you have over there in the USA is, for a brit, something that fascinates….

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

I feel your pain…our family was in a remotely similar situation with my dead-beat brother-in-law.

While it appears to look like Roy embezzled the money and is fishing for more, the facts haven’t been proven. Roy may have endorsed Ellie’s check in order to deposit it in her local bank account while she was not living at home. Sure, it’s a long shot, but possible. Just find a way to get in touch with Ellie to get to the truth.

And it’s the same with Sarah and the graduation announcements. Since you know that others went out to family members and suspect foul play, you have an obligation to verify your suspicions. You and Sarah can work talk through what to do about the matter if you are correct. She may just want to work it out with her dad.

On this end, the good news is that my bro-in-law (who is not an alcoholic but just from a planet that isn’t Earth, Venus or Mars) has come around in his own quirky way and now has a pretty decent relationship with his 3 daughters.

Oh, and then there was the time I accused my other brother-in-law for having an affair, but that is a whole other story.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Absolutely set him up for the fall. Intervention is a difficult and mostly unsuccessful pursuit. But this little play is easy. Contact the authorities first, and make them aware of the sting. Obviously tell them of the first suspected incident. Forgery is a serious crime, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he is committing it against his neighbors, co-workers, or other family members as well.

This is not an ethical or moral consideration for you at all. It is his ethics and morals that are in question here.

@Jeruba “It could kill him.”

He’s already dead. You doing the right thing is the only way to bring him back to life.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

People who are falling need to be caught. So set in motion the series of events that will ensure he is in fact, caught.

zenele's avatar

Hello dear. I was saddened to read that – but I’m glad you shared it with us and perhaps got it off your chest a bit?

You wrote (so eloquently, as usual) at the end: But I see that taking such an action could do more harm than good. And this is at the other end of the country and could mean a lot of expense for me if I had to travel and stay there (would I?), a burden I’m not really prepared to handle. I also see that he is apparently forging his daughters’ names on checks and stealing their money, and that should not be condoned by silence. However, even an open accusation without legal action could precipitate an unmanageable crisis, especially for the daughters, who are innocent victims.

Do I have an obligation, and if so, to whom?

Should I just let it lie?

Thus: I’m going to go with @dpworkin

Hope it works out. *sigh *

ZEN OUT

MissAnthrope's avatar

I’m somewhere in the middle. I personally would want to know what is going on because I wouldn’t want to continue sending checks that are getting rerouted. I would find a way to inquire with Ellie whether the first check was received. I agree that prosecuting someone over $100 is not so big a deal as to change Roy’s behavior, but if you find a way around him, you can have your answer as to what is happening and then go from there.

Val123's avatar

I would hand Sarah her check personally, and wait to see if Roy asks where it is. At which point I would tell him that you had a very strong suspicion that someone other than Ellie had cashed the check you sent her because you had checked, and it appeared that Ellie’s signature had been forged on the back of the check and the hand writing was nothing like hers. So you felt the only safe thing to do for Sarah’s sake was to give it to Sarah directly. Let him incriminate himself from there. If nothing else, that can hung unsaid between you two, giving you an edge, for the rest of his pathetic life.

Jeruba's avatar

…except that they are all on the East Coast and I am on the West.

I think one thing I will do is tell Sarah to go online to the USPS right away and have all mail that’s addressed to her at his house forwarded to another address. I got this idea from @janbb‘s comment.

ratboy's avatar

Let sleeping dogs lie, and incorporate the situation into your next novel where you can choose the outcome you prefer.

Val123's avatar

@Jeruba Or a PO box….You could also wire the fund directly via what ever that is. What is that you guys? She can pick it up at Dillions or whatever.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Hey! After you take care of Sarah, send ole’ Roy back the envelope that he provided with a note saying nothing more than “Check Mate!”.

Kayak8's avatar

There are so many angles on this one (most addressed above).

1. While I have come to know many of your talents, I am not aware of your expertise as a handwriting analyst so your assessment would be a guess and for the relatively small sum (as others have pointed out) no law enforcement agency is likely to do the analysis for you. A guess (even an educated guess) could be wrong and set a bunch of nonsense in motion that isn’t necessary or helpful.

2. Clearly you desire to have relationships with the two girls and to celebrate their accomplishments. I would get Sarah’s address and send her check there (and I like letting her know of the request that you received from his address—and let her address it as SHE see’s fit).

3. Because Ellie may not have received your original check and now Sarah will be receiving a check, I would probably check in with her as well. Without going into a great deal of detail (unless she asks), I would inquire (have her mother inquire) as to whether or not she received your check upon her graduation. If not, I would send her a replacement amount and again, I would allow her to address her father about the matter as SHE sees fit.

4. If you desire to have a relationship with Roy (this is not clear from your question), once you have resolved 2 and 3 above, you will have a pretty good idea of the facts before you confront him about how he wronged you (if he did).

Having spent a lot of time in 12 step meetings, I have learned that each of us can address how we have been wronged, but we can’t speak for others. If the daughters are concerned enough, they can address their concerns directly with their father. They are in a much better place (being local) for an intervention should that be desired.

Roy’s behavior will have its own consequences (you may never get to see the consequences). You can only come from a factual place on a matter like this and make sure the parts that are yours to control (did the girls get their graduation checks) is resolved. That’s it.

mrrich724's avatar

I think he is a man, and he should be able to deal with his actions. I think he should be held accountable for what he did. Stealing from a relative is inexcusable and gross.

Also, he is your relative, and if turning him in has any chance of possibly slowing him down on his path to self-destruction, you should do what you have to do.

And the attitude that Roy’s behavior will have its own consequences . . . you can be those consequences. If everyone thought that way, nothing would get done.

Val123's avatar

@mrrich724 Even if no one, no family member intervenes, something else happens, such as a car wreck or something. Usually it’s the law that ends up intervening some how some way….

JLeslie's avatar

I think she can set up a paypal account, and everyone can send money that way. Although, I guess paypal takes a little cut of the money? I don’t know how that works.

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t think she would ever be so crass. I doubt she has any idea that he has sent cards to everyone, sticking out a beggar’s paw on her behalf. If he opens the envelopes and forges her name, she won’t know.

Since I was asked for help (Sarah asked her mother to call me), the issue for me is how to respond to a family problem and not how to get a graduation gift to the girl. I see that I didn’t really make that clear above. I thought the check business might be something to call Roy on and thereby bring it to a head. But maybe there is nothing I can do other than extend compassionate support to the daughters.

Val123's avatar

What exactly did Sarah ask her mother to call you about @Jeruba?

Jeruba's avatar

To let me know about her father because she is worried sick about him and scared for him and, I guess, hoped I would do something, as a relative on his side that she knows and trusts. I have been trying to think things through and do a little research as well before calling her back. In the midst of that, I discovered this weirdness with the check and thought that might be a way to get through to him—make him see what he’s done. I don’t know if I can actually talk to him or not. It’s been years, and I may not have what it takes to reach him.

Val123's avatar

Oh….wow. I guess…it’s more in his ex wife’s court than yours. Is my first reaction…No, wait. How is he related to you? I somehow got the impression that it was your sister’s ex, but I re-read and that’s not the case….

Jeruba's avatar

I’m Sarah’s relative on Roy’s side (her father’s side) of her family. A blood relative of Roy’s and not of his ex’s.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

If Sarah wants you to intervene, she should talk to you directly. And only then can you find out what the deal is on the graduation announcement. The whole situation is filled with innuendo. It’s time to get down to the facts or wipe your hands clean.

I hope you do the former…I’ve read some of your other posts and appreciate your insight.

Kayak8's avatar

I am intrigued to know what course of action you decided to follow and the outcome as it is known at this point . . .

Val123's avatar

Me too, but not like @Kayak8. You a lawyer or something Kayak? I just wanna know what you did!!!

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