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5 Common Mistakes That Can Lead To Legal Problems

Notary mistakes that can cause legal problems(Originally published in the November 2012 issue of The National Notary magazine)

Updated 2-3-16. The National Notary magazine asked experts in law, government and education to share some of the most commonly made errors that can land Notaries in trouble.

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 serious 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.

Failing to properly record notarial acts

 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 represented Notaries for Merchants Bonding Company. 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

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.”

Making mistakes on the notarial certificates

 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, Lori 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.

Losing track of 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, the Notaries’ 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.

NNA Webinars: Commonly Asked Questions

Related Articles:

Habits And Missteps That Could Put Notaries At Risk

What To Do If Your Notary Seal Or Journal Go Missing

When To Say 'No' … And When Refusing A Notarization Is Not Allowed

Additional Resources:

NNA Hotline

Notary Essentials


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!!


09 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.

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