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Notary Bulletin

Don't Fall For The Old Excuses For Absent Signers

Say a friend asks you to notarize a power of attorney for her seriously ill mother, who is in the hospital and cannot appear before you. Even if you’ve known the friend for many years and have no reason to doubt her honesty, ignoring one of the steadfast principles of notarization is not worth the trouble it could bring. Besides, there are other options that would allow your friend to obtain notarial services without having you break the law.

This scenario — which came from a recent call to the NNA Hotline — is repeated every day across the country in different situations and settings. It doesn’t always come from a friend. Often it comes from a supervisor, a neighbor or a customer of your employer.

But by notarizing without requiring the signer’s appearance, you cannot be sure the signature isn’t forged, and that the person who signed did so willingly and with a complete understanding of the document and its ramifications.

This may be the single most frequent type of Notary misconduct. In Colorado last year, 44 percent of the violations of the state’s Notaries Public Act involved absent signers, more than six times greater than any other type of violation, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Excuses abound. Because requests often come from people you know and trust, they can be hard to turn down. But when you put your signature and seal on an acknowledgment or jurat certificate, you are certifying that the signer personally appeared before you. If that’s not true, the consequences can be severe. One Massachusetts Notary learned that painful lesson and is now facing state criminal charges as part of a mortgage fraud case even though authorities admit that she had no knowledge of the fraud scheme.

No matter how well you know someone or how much you trust them, notarizing a document outside of the signer’s presence opens the door to fraud, and a notary could face administrative actions at best, and criminal prosecution at worst..

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