What is the difference between forgery and counterfeiting?

On Behalf of | Jan 9, 2024 | Blog, Federal Crimes |

Many people use the terms forgery and counterfeiting interchangeably. If you are facing charges of one or the other, it is important to know the differences between them.

Forgery and counterfeiting both have the potential to be federal crimes but they carry distinct legal meanings.


Forgery entails the creation or alteration of documents with the intent to deceive. Common examples include falsifying signatures, altering checks or fabricating legal documents. It is a federal offense under the United States Code, Title 18, Section 471.

Those found guilty of forgery may face severe consequences, including fines and imprisonment. The severity of the punishment depends on the nature and scope of the forgery, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies.


While forgery pertains to documents, counterfeiting extends to replicating physical items such as imitation currency or goods. Title 18, Section 471 also addresses counterfeiting, making it a federal crime. In fiscal year 2022, the U.S. government found 86 people guilty of counterfeiting.

Producing counterfeit goods, such as fake designer products or knock-off electronics, also falls under various other federal statutes, including trademark infringement laws. The penalties for counterfeiting range from fines to imprisonment. The value of the forged currency or goods dictates the severity of the punishment.

Federal crimes

Both forgery and counterfeiting fall within the realm of federal crimes due to their impact on interstate commerce and national financial systems. The United States government asserts jurisdiction, even if the fraudulent acts occurred across state lines.

Being found guilty of forgery or counterfeiting can lead to significant repercussions, including fines, prison time and victim restitution. However, the prosecution must prove that the counterfeiter had an intent to defraud.