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Notary Bulletin

Strange Requests Emerging from Growing 'Sovereignty' Movement

A growing number of Notaries are being asked to execute complicated and often antiquated notarial acts to help further the unusual agendas of individuals seeking to curb or eliminate the power of federal, state and local government agencies — and, in some cases, financial institutions.

Notaries, and government officials across the nation are reporting a sharp increase in the number of requests for protests and other uncommon, if not unauthorized, acts. The increase is due to efforts on the part of certain people to avoid paying taxes, mortgages and other debts and to assert immunity from government authority. These individuals often are inspired by the so-called “Sovereign Citizens” or “Freemen” movements. The National Notary Association’s Hotline reports a six-fold spike in calls relating to these types of acts.

One of the more common acts being requested of Notaries is a protest — a largely antiquated notarial act involving an unpaid debt. They are rarely performed today due to their replacement by modern electronic financial systems. Because protests and related documents, such as Certificates of Service, involve complex procedures and may require performing an unauthorized act, you may refuse to perform them, explaining that they require specialized training. Notaries should complete protests and related acts only after seeking the advice of a licensed attorney.

The resurgence of requests is driven by individuals trying to use otherwise legitimate notarial acts to transform themselves from debtors into creditors. One of the more unusual documents seen by Notaries is a Notice of In Itinere Status in which an individual claims to be “in” but not “of” the United States. Once notarized, the signers often request state authorities to authenticate them with an apostille and then use the documents to claim immunity from federal and state laws.

Some states are taking action to restrict or eliminate their use. Oregon recently enacted a law that permits only Notaries actively employed by banks and financial institutions to perform protests. California is considering a similar bill.

Utah recently passed a law that prohibiting the Lieutenant Governor — the state’s Notary-regulating official — from authenticating the notarization of any document relating to allegiance to or the authority of a government, such as in itinere status. Authorities there cautioned Notaries against notarizing these types of documents. Those who do would receive a warning and then could face disciplinary action if they continue to perform these acts.

Many of these unusual requests, such as certificates of service, require Notaries to certify facts or actions. One certificate of service reviewed by the NNA asked the Notary to attest to mailing several property tax documents to the local authorities, then sign, date and stamp the form, which does not contain the client’s signature nor any authorized notarial wording. Because the attestation on the certificate of service is not an authorized act in California, Notaries there who execute them could face disciplinary action for misconduct.

In general, Notaries should proceed carefully if presented with one of these requests. If the signer is requesting a lawful acknowledgment or jurat, you generally should comply. If there are doubts that a requested act is lawful, the Notary is justified in refusing to proceed. In addition, if the Notary has knowledge or a clear, reasonable suspicion that the document is going to be used for an unlawful or improper purpose the Notary should refuse to notarize the document, said NNA Vice President of Notary Affairs Charles N. Faerber.

If a signer becomes threatening or violent because a Notary refuses to proceed, it is better to comply with the request, note the circumstances in the record book and then report the incident to police, Faerber said.

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