Documents and Images – “Live or Memorex”?

A few years back (maybe dating myself) Memorex ran an ad campaign whereby they proclaimed their recordings were so realistic  it was hard to tell if it was live or recorded.  Funny how successful advertising lines can stick with you for life.

As newer technology has become available, more information has shifted into the digital world, including video, audio or image recordings. What started out through basic copying has moved into electronic scanning, imaging and duplication, with near perfect results.  Technology available on most of today’s computers also allows for editing, and what was once reserved for highly trained and specialized experts has become commonplace and available through every home computer user.  For example, video can be captured through a cellular device, such as an iPhone, imported to a PC or Mac, edited, altered, added, deleted, combined and modified through iMovie, and saved as a final product.  Most of these often end up on YouTube to be shared.  Done carefully, only a trained eye may be able to tell the video was altered from the original footage.  Same holds true with songs and other audio files.

As we all know photographs too have all gone digital, and while traditional “film” cameras do still exist, it is becoming  harder and harder to find film to even purchase and develop.  Software such as Adobe Photoshop can be easily used to import, alter and change a picture, adding and/or deleting to the original captured image. The end result is a digital photo that can be sent across most every digital medium that exists.

How are these “digital” solutions impacting the field of forensics? Two quick links.

First, when any electronic evidence including video, audio or photographic information is provided, it now more than ever has to be independently and objectively authenticated before any reliance can be placed on the evidence.  No longer is it simply a matter of preserving the original in its original form and format.  One now needs to preserve the files or images provided, as well as search not only for evidence of the files being altered, but also for the original unaltered versions of the same information if they still exist.  Evidence of who and when any alterations were made should also be sought.

Below is a link (URL) to a recent article regarding electronic (digital ) pictures for use in a legal proceeding (criminal case or lawsuit):

The second link to forensics has to do with two recent cases of employee embezzlement.  In both cases what appeared to be original, full color versions of monthly bank statements were found within the financial files of the victim organizations.  In both cases, individuals internal and external to the organization used and relied upon these bank statements in the files.

Upon closer inspection after other indica of employee embezzlement became apparent, the bank statements were found to be altered, full color scanned images of the organization’s monthly bank statements.  In one case the canceled check images were cut and pasted into position from other statements, concealing the fraudulent canceled check images.  Even closer inspection of each statement revealed clues the statements were not only scanned color copies, but were also altered prior to reprinting in color.  Hole punches and folds/creases found in the original documents were scanned and captured in the copies, providing further discoverable evidence the statements were not originals.

Knowing how easy it is for someone to alter and reprint real looking documents, organizations and individuals alike need to recognize how easy it is for someone to create and present original looking documents.  While everyone will not aspire to become an expert document examiner, we all need to develop a sixth sense when reviewing documents, to question the authenticity of documents as part of important transactions and decisions, and ensure that we don’t place blind reliance (“trust”) on information that could have been created simply to fool us.  When in doubt, take the extra time necessary to ensure the authenticity of the documents you are relying.  In the world of forensics, we are!

Attached is an interesting link (URL) to a page relating to detecting altered documents through Forensic Document Examination Services, Inc.: