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Misuse Of Notary Seals

ClosenThumb.JPGThe misuse of Notary seals in conjunction with other mayhem (including violence and even murder) occurs too often. Like a police officer’s badge or a soldier’s uniform, the seal is a recognized symbol of authority, and Notaries cannot allow it to be borrowed, stolen or used by anyone else under any circumstances – NO EXCEPTIONS.

Whether negligent or intentional, a Notary who allows someone else to use the seal could be liable for any monetary damages that occur as a result. The Notary also could face criminal or civil penalties for notarial misconduct.

There are two basic points to understand about Notary seals. First, the seal is a tool of a commissioned public official and is to be used only for official acts by the Notary named on it. It is not like most other kinds of inked stamps or corporate seals, which are purely private in character. Second, each seal belongs to the Notary to whom it was issued and may only be used by that Notary. Moreover, the Notary has a high duty to protect the seal from misuse by others. It’s often the case that someone else — an employer, family member or friend — pays the fees for the Notary commission and/or the seal. It doesn’t matter. The Notary is the commissioned public official — not someone who simply paid for the seal.

Far too many Notaries take the security of their seals much too lightly. I recently testified as an expert witness in a Notary malpractice trial in which the court awarded more than $150,000 to the plaintiff because of a forged notarization. The inexperienced and careless Notary had left his seal in an unlocked desk drawer in a sometimes secured supervisor’s office at his place of work. The Notary apparently mistakenly thought it would reduce his responsibility when he claimed that someone had pilfered his seal and forged the notarization in question. The Notary was wrong in both respects. He should not have kept his Notary seal in such an insecure fashion. The fact that someone else misused the seal did not make the Notary any less accountable for the forged notarization. Indeed, in this case both the Notary and his employer (who knew that the Notary left his seal unsecured in the company office) were legally liable for the plaintiff’s financial damages.

Notaries should always maintain exclusive custody and control of their seals. Notaries should either have their seals with them or keep them locked in a place only they control. As the above example shows, Notaries and their employers can be held accountable for any misuse if a seal is left unsecured and the employer encourages or acquiesces in such conduct.

Be assured, when a Notary exercises reasonable caution to secure the seal but something extraordinary occurs anyway, the law will not hold the Notary responsible. To illustrate, a seal is carefully locked away in the Notary’s home or car, and if a thief breaks in and steals the seal, the Notary should not be accountable if the seal is misused.

Even after their commissions expire, former Notaries remain responsible for their seals. An old Notary seal can be a dangerous instrument in the hands of a scoundrel, for one who is willing to forge a notarization is certainly also willing to backdate documents to a time before the Notary seal’s expiration date. Hence, Notaries must not leave their seals behind at their places of work when their commissions expire or they change employment. Nor should they give away their old seals; sell them at garage sales or in online auctions; or cavalierly discard them where someone could find and misuse them. A few states spell out how old seals must be handled. Notaries in other states should be sure to effectively destroy their seals after their commissions expire. This process should include defacing the print on the seal. Notaries should even advise their next of kin about how to properly dispose of their Notary seals in the event of their untimely deaths. Otherwise, careless family members might improperly dispose of the seal and the family members could face legal action and liability.

Notary seals are too important to be treated lightly. Always know where your seal is, and be sure it is in your exclusive custody and control, secured from someone else’s misuse. None of us want to see our names in the media due to our carelessness or neglect.

10 Comments

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Matt Bednar

05 Mar 2015

What is the penalty if someone fictitiously makes up a notary public seal of an actual notary public and then forges that person's name when signing official documents? I did some research and I have proof of this on a document that it is fake. I checked to see if the name on my document is an actual notary public and she is. I called the State she resides in and the State gave me a copy of this person's notary public application. Her application shows that the seal she is commissioned with is not the one on my official document and the signature used, you can tell is forged. I know who doctored the document and I want to pursue this in court because the people who doctored it, is now trying to use it against me. Can you tell me what the punishment is and and how I can pursue this in a court of law. Sincerely, Matt

National Notary Association

05 Mar 2015

Hello Matt. You should report the problem to the law enforcement agency in your area that handles fraud cases. Depending on the area, this may be the county district attorney's office or another law enforcement agency. You may also wish to contact your state Notary-regulating office and inform them of the situation.

lori

15 May 2015

notary notorized forged signatures on a deed she failef to request id she failed to have signers appear in person

S

20 Jun 2015

How do I report someone who used someone else's stamp and signed her name on several documents for an extended period of time? She moved out of state and he still used her stamp. When hers expired, he wanted me to become a notary and give him my stamp. It needs to be reported. He also has a full crew of guys who are illegal immigrants working for him.

National Notary Association

22 Jun 2015

Hello. You should contact your state's Notary-regulating office to report any issues involving improper use of a Notary stamp.

Mery Ortiz

31 Jul 2015

I am a notary in texas, and i just found out someone is notarizing with a scanned copy of my stamp. They just changed the commission expiration date. What can i do about it?

National Notary Association

04 Aug 2015

Hello. You should contact your state Notary regulating agency, local police and the state attorney general's office to report the fraud. If possible, ask if you can file a report and get a copy for your records so you have a record that shows you reported someone else is using a forged copy of your seal.

Michael Burmeister

07 Dec 2016

Hello, I am going through a divorce and my to be ex-wife and I have to sell our house back to the bank ... A week ago my ex-wife signed quick claim deeds and estoppel affidavit at the bank that holds the loan... I came in now a week later and also signed the documents when she signed the vice President of the bank who was supposed to be the notary did not notarize the document when I went in a loan officer let me sign the documents never asked for my ID and he to did not notarize the document, he gave me copies of the documents signed but still nothing notarized. it clearly states below our signatures signed and sworn to before me by my name and her name on this day ---- and year... with everything left blank other than mine and her signature. I even asked the loan officer if this was done properly he had no idea. I contacted a board member of this bank and told him of the situation they had no care of the situation... not happy !

debbie

12 Dec 2016

Can a notary do legal documents for family or marry family

National Notary Association

12 Dec 2016

Hello. Currently only Florida, Maine, Nevada and South Carolina authorize Notaries to officiate weddings. In other states, persons must apply to become a wedding officiant through other channels. Notaries are not authorized to give legal advice or prepare legal documents for customers-doing so is considered the unauthorized practice of law and can result in criminal or civil penalties against the Notary.

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