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Avoid Dangerous Requests For Notarization

Working in a legal setting can bring with it a lot of pressure to do things quickly, and potentially unethically or illegally. As a professional Notary, you have a duty to say ‘no’ to requests that could leave you or your firm liable for negligence or fraud. The following are key warning signs along with suggested approaches to deal with them:

Risk: You are asked to ignore identification requirements.
Why It’s Dangerous: Failing to identify a signer properly is a violation of state law that could cost you your commission; and it could leave you and your employer open to criminal or civil penalties if fraud results from the improperly notarized document.

Suggested Response: Explain the liability and fraud risks to the person making the request. If the signer lacks ID, check if your state permits the use of one or two credible witnesses to identify the signer or ask if the signer has an alternate form of identification.

Risk: You are asked to backdate or alter a notarial certificate.
Why It’s Dangerous: This is illegal and a warning sign that the request involves a serious breach of ethics or law, especially if the requester insists that it be backdated.

Suggested Response: Don’t falsify or alter any information on a notarial certificate. Keep a reference book available listing your state’s prohibited acts such as an NNA state Notary Law Primer or information published by your state Notary-regulating agency to show your reason for refusal is backed up by state law.

Risk: You are asked to notarize a signature for an absent signer without the signer being physically present.
Why It’s Dangerous: Persons committing fraud often try to skirt the personal appearance requirement, primarily to have a forged signature notarized. If fraud is committed and the Notary is found to have notarized improperly, the Notary faces serious potential civil and criminal penalties.

Suggested Response:Explain to the signer that personal appearance and positive identification of the signer are required for the notarization by law. Though there are rare cases where someone may appear before a Notary on behalf of an absent signer (such as a proof of execution by a subscribing witness), they are only allowed for a limited set of circumstances and are not permitted in all states. If the person making the request asks for a proof of execution or other special exception, contact the NNA Hotline or your state Notary-regulating agency to confirm this is permissible.

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