A new law in Arizona that strengthens how Notaries identify signers illustrates the growing national focus on this vital responsibility at a time when identity fraud plays an increasing role in transactions that Notaries commonly encounter -- such as mortgage and real estate closings.
Whether or not Notaries live in states with specific requirements for identifying signers, there are a number of things every Notary should do every time -- from insisting on proper ID to making a record of it.
For Arizona Notaries, the new law spells out what types of identification documents they may accept. These include valid driver's licenses issued by a U.S. state or territory; a valid U.S. passport; or a valid identification card issued by a federal, state or tribal government that contains the individual's photo, signature and physical description. This type of detail was not included in the state's earlier statutes.
Oregon earlier enacted measures -- via a new law and an administrative rule -- that also clarify identification requirements for notarizations.
Laws in many states still leave Notaries to their own devices when it comes to deciding how to properly identify signers. In general, every Notary should identify every signer for every notarization regardless of the circumstances.
Methods of Identification
Most states still permit Notaries to rely on their personal knowledge of signers to identify them (California is the only state to ban personal knowledge), but most definitions of the practice are vague at best. The best approach is to use personal knowledge only to identify signers you have known and interacted with over a long period of time.
Most Notaries rely on identity documents, such as driver's licenses. Some states specify what identity documents are acceptable, but many laws are vague. The general rule is that identity documents should be issued by a government agency and contain a photograph, a physical description, a signature and s serial or ID number.
Because fake identity documents are fairly common, Notaries who have doubts about an ID are encouraged to ask for a supplemental ID. Social Security cards and credit cards make good secondary IDs. It is unlikely, for example, that someone using a fake driver's license also will have a fake credit card.
While very few states require Notaries to record signers' thumbprints, it is a recommended practice for every notarization. It is a strong deterrent to criminals, who would be reluctant to leave behind evidence of their fraud.
Finally, Notaries always should record the details of how they identify signers. A typical journal entry should include the type of ID used and such details as the signer's address and the ID number. But it's a good idea to check your state's laws for any requirements or restrictions. Texas, for example, bars Notaries from recording ID numbers while California requires it.