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Notary Bulletin

5 Common Mistakes That Can Lead To Legal Problems

Legal-trouble-resized.jpgUpdated 3-11-19. Careless mistakes when notarizing can have serious legal consequences, for the Notary and the signer. Recognizing and steering clear of these common mistakes is the best way to prevent costly legal trouble. Here are 5 common mistakes Notaries should avoid:

1. Failing To Require The Signer To Appear  
Experts all agreed that failing to require a signer to physically appear before you is the most common mistake that lands Notaries in legal hot water. Notarizing without a signer’s personal appearance is a violation of law in every state and territory, and can result in major financial and legal penalties. Lori Hamm, Notary Compliance and Education Officer for the Montana Secretary of State’s Office, described a case in which a man claimed his signature was forged on a notarized quitclaim deed filed during divorce proceedings. The Notary admitted that she had done notarizations in the past where she spoke with signers by telephone to ask if they signed documents. The Notary’s commission was suspended.

2. Failing To Properly Record Notarizations 
Too many Notaries fail to keep a record of their notarial acts, especially in states that do not require it. But that’s a problem because a properly maintained journal is your best protection if someone makes a claim against you, said California attorney Richard Busch, who has represented many Notaries in legal actions. Failing to record information in the journal when the law requires it can be a problem, too. One Notary in a state that requires a journal thumbprint neglected to obtain the signer’s thumbprint in what turned out to be a forgery. The Notary’s insurance carrier paid out a full loss on the 
Notary’s E&O policy

3. Failing To Obtain Satisfactory Proof Of Identity From A Signer 
“Unless the signer personally appears and 
presents a valid ID, the Notary just cannot do the notarization. Period.” Busch said. “Otherwise, they will likely end up being sued, since more than likely there is a fraud being perpetrated.”

4. Making Mistakes On The Notarial Certificate 
While writing incorrect information on certificate wording or forgetting to write in information is often done accidentally, it’s a situation that can cause major headaches for a signer and trouble for Notaries if a problem with a document results. For example, Hamm described how if a Notary doesn’t properly complete the wording on documents for a car purchase, the buyer may not be able to take title and must spend time tracking the Notary down in order to take ownership. Be especially careful with business transactions, Hamm warned, because if someone loses money as a result, they are likely to hold the Notary responsible for any money lost. “Not paying attention to notarial wording and the law gets you in trouble,” she said.

5. Losing Your Seal
Letting others use your Notary seal or not properly securing your seal can be damaging. Two Notaries in different states found this out the hard way. In both cases, their signatures appeared on documents they denied notarizing. The only other alternatives weren’t much prettier. Either the Notaries failed to secure their seals, allowing someone else to use them, or they intentionally allowed others to improperly use them. One Notary settled out of court and the other’s insurance carrier settled the claim by compensating the victims.

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

Additional Resources:

NNA Hotline

View All: Best Practices


Add your comment

Susan Barnes

26 Oct 2015

Thanks for the information,

Georgia B.

08 Feb 2016

I'm extremely grateful for all the reminders you send out as sometimes we do forget the simple things. Thank you for all you do to help us in becoming and remaining professional entrepreneurs.

Robert Boire

08 Feb 2016

All common sense information. Things that are needed in the way "required", but a lot of people are just in a hurry to get in and out. Hopefully this will make all of use think first before we act.

Khalid Rana

08 Feb 2016

A comprehensive guide lines for Notaries how to proceed carefully for notarizing documents and maintaining record. Very helpful information.

Juanvinetta Davis

08 Feb 2016

my commission expires on April 17, 2016, how do I renew it and how soon can I renew it?

National Notary Association

09 Feb 2016

Hello Juanvinetta. If you need assistance renewing your commission, our Customer Care team can help you at 1-800-876-6827.


08 Feb 2016

Great reminders!!


08 Feb 2016

Great information!!

31 Aug 2016

Very helpful information. Pratical, common sense reminders when conducting notaries. Seems like the Notary Publics in these scenerios were extremely careless in their acts. Thanks for the information.


13 Feb 2017

I truly appreciate the updates and reminders.

Carol Wenzel

14 Feb 2017

2 patients came into the clinic that I work in as well as do the notary, in which I am a new notary of 2 1/2 months. The 1st patient wanted me to notarize his list of things that were wrong with his apartment that he was moving into. The 2nd patient wanted me to notarize his personal notes he had written down during his behavioral health session. I chose not to notarize both notes, because I was not comfortable in doing that, being a new notary & I wasn't sure if it would have been legal for me to do so. So I guided them to other notary agents elsewhere who were more knowledgeable in those matters. So my question is: can I notarize personal handwritten notes? I am commissioned in Wisconsin.

Stephanie Dye

20 Feb 2017

Thank you so much for all the awesome information that you send us. I agree, this information and they why's of it all help to keep us in the know and safe. Very appreciated.


24 Feb 2019

I am victim if identity fraud in which a Fidelity mortgage loan modification with my name was notarized without my knowledge. Property in Houston I live in Ft Lauderdale. I want to sue for I need an attorney? If so, does attorney need to be licensed in Texas?

National Notary Association

25 Feb 2019

Hello. We're sorry, but we can't provide legal advice on how to proceed with a lawsuit. You would need to contact a qualified attorney in your area to answer your questions.

Daphne Cox

18 Mar 2019

The information that's emailed is always helpful to myself and others as well. I think this information is great and the notary shouldn't let the consumers rush them with the notarization, that's when mistakes happen.

Laura H

18 Mar 2019

I have a question regarding what you are to put in the County spot. I actually work in a different county I live in. When I notarize, do I use my work county? This is where I am actually doing my notarizing.

National Notary Association

18 Mar 2019

Hello. If you are referring to the location in the venue portion of a Notary certificate, then you would enter the county where the notarization is taking place.

Corinne Galloway

18 Mar 2019

Great information. Please keep it coming!

Geri Wiley

18 Mar 2019

I enjoy these notifications, makes being a notary updated on all legal matters.

Amanda M Smith

18 Mar 2019

Your bulletin is always very helpful. for keeping us up to date and putting out good articles to keep us on track.

Tabatha L

18 Mar 2019

Thank you for all the helpful notary advice!

Arnica Perez

19 Mar 2019

Thanks for this valuable information

Gwendolyn Jordan

20 Mar 2019

Im a new notary....need all this info and then some. Should I join this org to recieve educational information?

National Notary Association

21 Mar 2019

Hi Gwendolyn. If you have any questions about NNA membership, please feel free to contact us at 1-800-876-6827 and one of our Customer Care representatives will be happy to provide you with information.


30 May 2019

Thank you so much for this reminder. We should always pay attention to what we're notarizing to avoid complications. Thank you again for this.


09 Jul 2019

Thank you for the reminder and the updates. They are very important.

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