Counterfeiting is a crime that describes a range of activities involving the production of fakes that are then presented in the place of genuine items. Counterfeiting is a federal crime, though it is important to understand how the federal legal definition of counterfeiting differs from the use of the word in other contexts. The following article provides an overview of the federal crime of counterfeiting and related issues.
What Is a Counterfeit?
Although the word counterfeit is also used in discussion about forged art or other commercial products such as bags or shoes; these are not the kinds of counterfeits covered by federal criminal law. Those kinds of fakes are typically punished under fraud and trademark laws. Interestingly, when these cases do fall under prohibitions on counterfeiting it is typically on account of the forged documentation relating to the fake piece, rather than the fake item itself, that causes liability.
Fakes that are forbidden by federal law involve the production, possession, and use of fake documents that are used to defraud the U.S. government. Counterfeit items that are covered by federal counterfeit crime laws include:
- Letters patent
- Ship's papers
- Postage stamps
- Military passes, permits, discharge papers, and other documents
- Legal documents such as deeds, power of attorney documents, certificates, receipts, contracts, and other documents for sending and receiving intending to enable a person to claim any sum of money from the United States or its officers
- Government documents
A comprehensive list of prohibited counterfeit or forged instruments is located in U.S. Code, Chapter 25.
Counterfeiting crimes include a number of activities associated with fakes. Some of the acts associated with counterfeits that can result in criminal prosecution include:
- Possession of counterfeits
- Utterance, passing a counterfeit as a legitimate document
- Possession of the tools for producing counterfeits
- Removing or altering motor vehicle identification numbers
- Pasting together parts of notes, bills, or other instruments to make a fraudulent one
- Making, selling, possessing, or using slugs, tokens, or other counterfeit money substitutes
Prosecutions for counterfeiting may include many separate charges for these actions in association with the underlying counterfeit goods.
Penalties for Counterfeiting
Penalties for specific kinds of counterfeiting vary, but counterfeiting U.S. securities carries a potential fine of up to $250,000 and a maximum of 25 years in federal prison. Penalties are increased where the crime resulted in financial gain, or resulted in another party suffering a financial loss. Penalties may be up to double the amount gained or lost. Issuance of false securities is punished with fines and a maximum 20 year prison sentence. Forging postage stamps carries possible fines and imprisonment for not more than five years.
As you can see, federal counterfeiting crimes carry very serious potential penalties. A complete list of the penalties for various counterfeiting offenses is found within U.S. Code, Chapter 25.
Get a Free Initial Case Assessment
Federal criminal prosecutions are notoriously difficult to fight. If you have been charged with counterfeiting, you'll need the assistance of a qualified lawyer to prepare the best possible defense. Contact a local attorney for a free initial case review to discuss your charges.