THE MAGAZINE

Scientific Examination of Documents: Methods and Techniques, Third Edition

By Adrian A. Barnie

*****Scientific Examination of Documents: Methods and Techniques, Third Edition. By David Ellen; published by CRC Press, www.crcpress.com (Web); 248 pages; $79.95.

You wouldn’t want an orthopedist to perform an appendectomy or a trusts and estates lawyer to represent you in a medical malpractice case, so why entrust specialized security tasks to general security practitioners? A stable of trained and experienced specialists exists in the security profession to assist in duties that fall outside the knowledge of most security managers. One of those specialties is examination of documents, the topic of this book.

As author David Ellen explains, document examination is more complex than a lot of other specialties. Comprehensive document examination includes, among other skills, forensic analysis of paper and inks and handwriting comparison (as distinct from graphology—assessing personalities from handwriting—which Ellen dismisses as hokum.)

But someone who puts out a shingle announcing document examination services might not have any of these concomitant skills, so Ellen cautions users to look for certification by national boards of document examiners (such as the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners) and to check practitioners’ references.

Per Ellen, document examination has but one purpose: “to provide information about the history of a document for the benefit of a court of law or, before that, to an investigating police officer or other agent seeking evidence that might be present in the document.”

As befitting a discipline grounded in science, document examination usually begins with a hypothesis, which is then tested. Ellen describes the process for doing so.

Of the book’s eleven chapters, four are devoted to handwriting. In these chapters, Ellen examines the differences in handwriting styles among individuals, general styles of writing and printing, tracing methods, and so on. He also explains accidental and deliberate modification of handwriting as well as the proper collection of samples. Other chapters address printed and photocopied documents, photographs, incidental marks such as those made by paper clips and staples, and court testimony.

This third edition updates its predecessors with timely discussion of recent advances in and wider use of office equipment such as laser printers as well as new technologies available to examiners. One fascinating piece of new equipment is the video spectral comparator, which, when a document is placed inside, enables the examiner to view the specimen at various angles and in different lighting conditions and wavelengths, including in infrared and ultraviolet light. The image appears on a video screen for analysis.

Because it is so technical, the book is not an easy read. It does, however, have great reference value for security professionals who wish to gain detailed insight into document examination.

Adrian A. Barnie, CPP, CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner), is with the Anti-Money Laundering Unit of Key Bank's Financial Intelligence Unit in Cleveland, Ohio. He is a member of ASIS International.

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