Anti-government activists sometimes try to use notarizations to validate outlandish business or legal claims. By notarizing such documents Notaries may be aiding unethical or illegal acts without realizing it. But Notaries can refuse many of these types of requests without violating their responsibility to serve the public regardless of a signer's political or personal beliefs.
While there are no hard and fast numbers, members of the "sovereign citizens" movement are creating significant problems for government officials, acording to Tom Wrosch of the Oregon Secretary of State's office, a notarial expert who has closely followed the nationwide trend.
Illegal documents submitted for notarization include efforts to get out of paying taxes or debts to private lenders as well as claims of immunity from state and federal laws. Other documents falsely claim that government agencies owe billions of dollars to sovereign citizen activists. Wrosch advises Notaries to treat these requests carefully. In general, if a document appears obviously fraudulent or bogus, it is the Notary's duty not to abet it.
When scanning the document to make sure it is complete, keep in mind these red flags:
- Is it a protest? A protest is a largely antiquated act involving an unpaid debt. They are rarely performed today due to their replacement by modern electronic financial systems. They also require specialized training and the supervision of an attorney to properly complete
- Does it ask you to certify rights or facts that are clearly illegal or that the signer does not possess?
- Does it say “not a citizen of the United States,” make other claims regarding sovereignty or immunity from law, or make obscure references to the Uniform Commercial Code?
- Does it include outrageous dollar amounts?
Any of these red flags should warn you not to proceed with the notarization, Wrosch advised. "Notaries are smart not to involve themselves in something that would assist a crime. You can go by a reasonable care standard: Is the document something a person off the street would abet?"