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Notary Bulletin

In The Face Of Disaster: Notarizing In Times Of Crisis

When disaster strikes, such as the devastating string of tornadoes that recently ripped through Oklahoma and Alabama, the whereabouts of your notarial equipment is likely to be the last thing on your mind. But once the proverbial dust clears, what should you do if you find your tools of the trade have gone missing? Furthermore, how can you protect yourself while helping those around you in need?

Reporting and Recovering Lost Notarial Materials

Whether the cause is Mother Nature or a criminal act, if you lose your journal, seal, or other pertinent notarial materials, refer to the appropriate official informational resources in your state such as an official Web site or handbook as soon as possible to find out what actions you should take.

State regulations will vary; for example, Oklahoma Notaries are required to report lost or stolen seals to the Secretary of State within 10 days. In Alabama, where Notaries are required to maintain journals, you’d need to contact the judge of probate. In most cases, you should contact the agency to whom you would have surrendered your materials, had you resigned from your notarial post.

It is prudent to contact your governing agency in writing and save a copy in your files so that you can document the transaction and further protect yourself, should the materials end up in the wrong hands.

Helping Those Who Have Lost Everything

In the case of natural disasters — or even when dealing with victims of crime — you may find yourself working with people who have literally “lost everything,” including a primary means of identification. In the absence of reliable identification documents, such as a state-issued driver’s license, passport, or federal ID, there are two principle options for verifying a signer’s identity:

  • Personal Knowledge: In this case, the individual must be someone with whom you — the Notary — have been associated over a long enough period of time that you are able to remove any level of reasonable doubt as to their legal identity. Be sure to check your state’s regulation with regards to the use of personal knowledge as a viable source of identification as the rules vary from state to state. California, for example, no longer allows Notaries to rely on personal knowledge.
  • Credible Identifying Witness: In most states, a signer can use credible identifying witnesses to verify the signer’s identity. The witness should personally know the signer. It also helps if you know the witness, as well. In addition, the witness should be competent and impartial. Again, be sure to review your state’s specific mandates with regards to credible witnesses as laws vary.

Keep in mind, supplemental identification documents, such as credit cards, unofficial ID cards (such as a gym membership or green card), or even a Social Security card are not by themselves considered satisfactory evidence of identity. They can, however, be used as supplemental proof of identity to support a reliable primary ID.

Whether you live in tornado territory, brushfire zones or earthquake terrain, disaster scenarios can unfortunately raise levels of fraud danger, including the threat of identity theft. Don’t compromise your best practices and ethics based on a hardship plea. Instead, exercise both sympathy and caution — it will help you better serve the needs of your signers, while also protecting yourself.

Additional Resources For Disaster Victims:

Alabama:
Office of Secretary of State
Administration Services
Notaries Public
(334)242-7205
State Capitol, Rm. S-105
P.O. Box 5616
Montgomery AL 36103-5616
Secretary of State, Notaries Public: 
http://www.sos.alabama.gov/AdminServices/NotaryPublic.aspx

Arkansas:
Office of Secretary of State
Business & Commercial Services Division
(501) 682-3409 / (888)233-0352
1401 W. Capitol Ave., Ste. 250
Little Rock, AR 72201-1094
Secretary of State, Business and Commercial Services:
http://www.sos.arkansas.gov/corp_ucc_notary.html

Oklahoma:
Notary Administration
Office of Secretary of State
Notary Public Services (405) 521-2516
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Ste. 101
Oklahoma City, OK 73105-4897
Secretary of State, Notary Public Services: 
https://www.sos.ok.gov/notary/default.aspx

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