A notary public should take additional steps to prevent fraudulent acts from signers. These otherwise simple steps will ensure the notarial act is performed correctly and according to law. Notaries who attempt to cut corners by ‘shortening’ the process could be subject to forfeiture of their commission and/or legal action. So, what steps can a notary public take to prevent fraud?
Notarize Only When Signer Is Present
The golden rule of performing notarial act is to only notarize when the signer is present. The single most common reason why notaries are sued is because they notarize documents without requiring the signer to be present. If a client needs a document notarized, ask him or her to travel to your office to perform the notarial act. Alternatively, you can agree to meet the signer at a public location to perform the notarial act. The bottom line is that you should only notarize a document when the signer is present.
Verifying The Signer’s Identification
Another simple but often overlooked step to prevent fraud is to verify the signer’s identity. While laws regarding the execution of notarial acts varies from state to state, all notaries are required to verify the signer’s identity using an acceptable form of ID. This may include a driver’s license, state-issued ID, passport, U.S. military card, etc.
Don’t just scan the identification, but instead check the name, birth date, photo and other elements to determine whether or not it’s the signer’s. If you have any doubts whatsoever, respectfully decline to perform the notarial act until the signer’s brings additional identification. Even if the client gets irate, it’s simply not worth taking the risk.
You can read more about the acceptable forms of identification for notarial acts by visiting our previous blog post here.
Don’t Backdate Documents
Writing a date on a notarized document that’s earlier than the day’s actual date may seem harmless enough, but it can place a notary public in hot legal water. This practice, known as backdating, is strictly prohibited, and can result in lawsuits and other legal action. If someone is supposed to have a document notarized by a certain date but forgets to do so, he or she may ask a notary public to backdate their document. Again, notaries should never engage in this activity, as it’s both illegal and unethical.
Many states have begun to implement fingerprints as a way to prevent fraud. California, for instance, has required notaries to obtain a fingerprint of real estate document signers since 1996. Illinois passed a similar law for notarizing real estate documents. While identification cards can be easily counterfeiting using the appropriate tools, it’s practically impossible to duplicate an individual’s fingerprint. Every person has their own unique fingerprint, making this a powerful tool to help prevent fraud. Check your state’s respective laws to determine whether or not fingerprints are required when conducting notarial acts.