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What do federal counterfeiting laws cover?

In popular culture, counterfeiting is frequently associated with reproducing fake dollar bills or other currencies. While it is true the federal government outlaws forging paper currency, Minnesota residents should be aware that there are other documents and forms that cannot be counterfeited. Findlaw provides an overview of what kinds of documents are protected from counterfeiting.

Basically, federal counterfeit law forbids people from producing, possessing or otherwise using forged documents to defraud the federal government. Currency, including forged dollar bills and coins, are covered by federal law, as are fake securities or government documents. Forging postage stamps is also forbidden, as it deprives the government of revenue from the purchase of legitimate stamps. Additionally, counterfeit law forbids the use of fake military documents. This can include forging papers used on military ships. Other military papers include permits, discharge papers and military passes.

Federal counterfeit law also forbids forging legal documents that might be used to claim money from the U.S. government or any of its officials. A person, for example, that fakes a deed and tries to use it to claim property is guilty of breaking counterfeit law. Likewise, there are instances where people may create a fake contract with the intent of securing property or assets. Other documents forbidden from being forged include power of attorney papers, receipts or certificates.  

Finally, while some people may believe federal counterfeit law forbids copying shoes, artwork or other commercial items, the truth is that these types of copies actually are not covered by counterfeit law. These kinds of forgeries tend to be punished under laws that forbid fraud or govern the use of trademarks and copyrights. If counterfeit law is ever a factor, it is usually because the documents used in association with forged material items are themselves counterfeit.  

This article is intended to educate readers on the subject of counterfeit law and is not to be taken as legal advice.

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