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Quiz: Avoid Being Led Astray By 'Tricks' And 'Treats'

In honor of Halloween this month, our October quiz will test how well you properly deal with attempted “tricks” during a notarization, and if you recognize when someone’s offering you an inappropriate “treat” to try and compromise your impartiality.

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1. A man comes in and asks you to notarize his wife’s signature on an important document, but she’s not present. He asks if you can do him a favor: She’s stuck in traffic and they have to file the document in an hour, so he’ll vouch for both their identities. What do you do?

A. Notarize if he will swear a verbal oath that he’s telling the truth
B. Notarize if he promises the wife will stop by with proper ID later
C. Refuse to notarize the wife’s signature unless she’s present
D. Refuse to notarize unless he shows you he’s carrying the wife’s ID

Answer: C. Don’t fall for this “trick.” Many Notaries have had someone ask them to notarize an absent person’s signature “as a favor,” citing work, traffic or other inconveniences — but you should never notarize without the signer physically present. Even if the person making the request is a parent, child or spouse of the missing signer, you can’t be certain his or her intentions are honest. There have been documented cases of close relatives persuading a Notary to “do a favor” and notarize an absent family member’s signature — only for the Notary to find out later that the relative was lying, used the document to defraud the signer and left the Notary liable for misconduct.

2. An attorney requests an acknowledgment on a document. You notice a discrepancy in the document’s date — it shows it should have been filed three days ago. “Look, I ran into some delays,” the attorney says. “I really need to file this. Can you just backdate your notarization to match the document filing date? I’m an attorney, so I’ll take care of any problems, and pay you $20 over your maximum fee for your trouble.” What do you do?

A. Backdate the document at no charge, since an attorney is requesting it
B. Backdate the document, and accept the extra fee, since you are complying with a special request
C. Decline the request, but refer the attorney to another Notary willing to backdate
D. Decline the request, since both the request and the offer of extra money are illegal

Answer: D. Extra money may seem like a “treat” — but it’s not worth criminal charges. Backdating a notarial certificate and accepting money over a state’s maximum Notary fee are both against the law. It doesn’t matter if the person making an illegal request is an attorney, doctor or any other professional — if the request is illegal, you must refuse it. If you willingly comply with an illegal request, you could face criminal penalties and civil liability. In addition, any Errors and Omissions Insurance you have will not protect you when your “error” was due to intentional misconduct.

3. An elderly gentleman accompanied by a younger woman comes to your office. The woman says the gentleman needs his signature notarized. When you start to speak to the gentleman, the woman interrupts. “I’m his caregiver,” she says. “He’s already signed the document, but he has a hearing problem. I can answer any questions you need to ask.” What do you do?

A. Ask the woman to swear an oath she is representing the signer’s wishes accurately
B. Ask to speak to the signer without the woman present
C. Ask to speak to the signer with the woman present
D. Do as the woman asks but document the conversation in your Notary journal

Answer: B. A third party who tries to answer questions on behalf of a signer may be trying to “trick” you into thinking the signer is willing when he or she is not. In these situations, you should ask the third party to leave the room so that you can communicate directly with the signer without possible coercion. If the signer is unwilling, or if direct communication with the signer still isn’t possible, do not proceed with the notarization.

4. True or False. A Notary should always look to see if a signer’s ID photo matches the description.

Answer: True.Some dishonest signers have presented altered IDs to Notaries to pose as someone else. It’s always a good practice to check that the signer’s photo is consistent with information such as age, height, weight, and hair or eye color in the physical description. If there’s a glaring inconsistency — such as a photo of a teenager with birthdate of 1946 listed — it’s likely the ID has been tampered with in an attempt to “trick” the Notary.

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.

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