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Notary Bulletin

Fingerprinting — The Notary’s Shield Against Fraud

For a spiral ink smudge on a piece of paper, a fingerprint contains a lot of power. It’s one of the strongest proofs of identity used today, and, because of that, national use of fingerprinting for Notary journal entries is the key to stemming the tidal wave of fraud swamping America.

Some fear that requiring people to leave a fingerprint record is a breach of privacy. But lackadaisical business practices have had far worse consequences. In an environment where state laws often are vague, too many companies have failed to insist that signers provide strong proof of their identity, enabling criminals to commit mortgage fraud and other crimes on an epidemic scale. In turn, widespread fraud and dishonest business practices contributed significantly to the current economic meltdown.

Unfortunately, the sophistication and savvy of criminals has far outstripped the ability of our current real estate system to stop them. This was proved recently when a New York reporter used a handful of forged documents to “steal” the Empire State Building. Law enforcement officials are emphatic on one point: Fingerprints help stop fraud and catch criminals, especially fingerprint records in a Notary’s journal entry. A signer’s fingerprint in a journal not only provides trustworthy evidence of who participated in a transaction, but it also gives investigators vital clues to help locate a perpetrator in fraud cases. Because of that, a fingerprint requirement for journal records can make a criminal think twice before trying to fool a Notary. What’s more, taking a signer’s print demonstrates that a Notary exercised due diligence in performing the notarization and provides powerful legal protection for the Notary against claims of negligence.

California has recognized the value of fingerprinting since 1996 by requiring Notaries to get a signer’s print for journal entries related to real estate documents. Illinois recently has followed suit with a new law requiring fingerprinting for real estate-related notarizations in Cook County. Other states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, also are taking a hard look at enacting similar requirements. The more states continue to make fingerprints a required part of recordkeeping, the more effectively Notaries will be able to do their jobs and prevent fraud. It’s time to make fingerprinting a mandatory shield for every Notary in every state.

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