Law enforcement in cases that include fraud, forgery or the like might well be stymied without the services of forensic document examiners. Recommended preparation for a careers as a forensic document examiner includes a bachelor's degree, as well as field training and experience in lab work. Certification is voluntary, but recommended.
Forensic document examiners, also known as questioned document examiners, are legal experts in methods of detecting fraud, forgery, and other irregularities in documents. They assist law enforcement agencies and are called upon to give expert witness testimony in courtrooms.
|Required Education||Bachelor's degree|
|Other Requirements||Certification examination|
|Projected Job Growth* (2014-2024)||27%|
|Median Salary* (2015)||$56,320 (all forensic science technicians)|
*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Forensic document examiners are specially trained individuals with a unique talent and, therefore, no formal salary data is available for this career. According to PayScale.com in January 2016, forensic analysts, some of whom serve as document examiners, earned a base salary between $39,305 and $108,882 annually. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), reported in May 2015 that forensic science technicians earned a median salary of $56,320; those who worked for state or local governments earned average salaries ranging between $59,430 and $60,680 a year. Most forensic scientists, including document examiners, are employed by state and federal law enforcement agencies; there is insufficient data available at this time to provide information for forensics document inspectors in the private sector. According to the BLS, job growth in this field is expected to be 27%, much faster than average, from 2014 to 2024.
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Forensic document examiners are most commonly employed by federal, state, and local government law agencies; some examiners establish small consulting groups or work alone as consultants. They use a specific knowledge base to uncover discrepancies and consistencies in documents. For example, in the nationally-known Lindbergh abduction case, forensics document experts assisted the FBI in following a paper trail that lead to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator.
There are five common types of forgery the examiner works with, including tracery and freehand attempts. An examiner closely compares the possible forgery with other documents and is able to detect the slightest difference and recognize whether or not it was written by the original hand. The examiner must also be able to identify differences in typewriter key impression depth and style. At times, they are called upon to testify in court regarding original signature, as well as the possibility it was signed under duress or coercion. Recognition of ink types and dating is also a forte' of the forensics document examiner, allowing him or her to detect additions made to the document after it was signed.
There is no specific college program to become a forensic document examiner, however the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE) and other professional associations recommend a baccalaureate degree along with experience in laboratory work and field training. The primary fields of study suggested by the ABFDE are literature and chemical sciences. Some organizations, such as the FBI, offer paid internship programs and college scholarships that provide learning opportunities in this field; private consulting companies are also an option for internships.
The Board of Forensic Document Examiners offers a voluntary certification for forensic document examiners that requires passing an examination. The first part of the examination is written. In the second part, the examiner must demonstrate practical skills. Certification is granted for a term of five years and must be renewed.
If you have earned a bachelor's degree in an area appropriate to forensic science and obtain some experience in lab work and field training, you may qualify for a career as a forensic documents examiner. Voluntary certifications, which are renewable every five years, are available through the ABFDE and can be advantageous to your marketability and advancement. Employment opportunities are projected to increase at a much faster rate than the national average for all occupations through 2024.