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I'm reading Schengen Borders Code (2006R0562—EN) and in the Annex V Part B there's a list of reasons for refusing entry that includes

(B) has a false/counterfeit/forged travel document

As far as I know, any of those would mean that the document bearer either obtained the document in an illegal way or has edited the document.

What would those three qualifications exactly mean and what's the difference between them?

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This kind of redundancy is entirely normal in legalese. See also e.g. "sell, rent, lease or otherwise hypothecate or dispose of" (often there will be "mortgage" in there as well, and possibly some others...). – Karl Knechtel Aug 27 '11 at 7:24

There may be legal distinctions and lawyers like covering all the options.

The famous politician, self-proclaimed brilliant author and notorious liar, Lord Archer committed perjury in a libel case. His alibi was a diary entry that showed he was somewhere else, but which he had had his secretary invent after the fact.

The charge was one of "making a false instrument".

The diary wasn't a counterfeit - it was a genuine diary, and really his diary.
It wasn't a forgery - it was genuinely written by the secretary he claimed it was written by.
But it was a false record of his status at the given date.

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I doubt that there is an unambiguous, consensually agreed upon definition of the difference between these terms, or that they're intended to have terribly distinct meanings here: I think it's more that the drafters are just trying to "hedge their bets" by putting various synonyms (I'm surprised they didn't add "fake").

However, if there is any difference, then perhaps it's this (based on Black's Law Dictionary):

  • a "false" document is simply one that isn't genuine
  • a "forged" document is a false document that is "fradulently made" or a real document "alter[ed] [...] to be used as if genuine" or one "made to look genuine by someone with the intent to deceive"
  • a "counterfeit" document is a forgery that reproduces a trademark (or presumably other stamp/seal in this case) for the purpose of deception.

But, you shouldn't necessarily rely on these as being "the" definition. In an actual case, if there was any doubt then what would happen is that lawyers would lengthily and expensively fight it out between them as to whether they believed that a particular use was covered by these terms.

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False/fake — something made from ground up in order to look like the genuine (e.g. garments, documents).

Forged — the genuine altered enough to serve the scope (e.g. documents).

Counterfeit — false (e.g. money, bonds).

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A counterfeit is a copy of a generic item with the purpose to deceive, usually with a minimal amount of profit, i.e., to counterfeit a $20 bill to be passed off for $20. A forgery is a copy of something that is a specific target, which is usually very valuable, i.e., to make a copy of the Mona Lisa that someone wants to sell to a collector.

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