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WWYD: The Case Of The Unidentifiable Signer-Your Answers

Scarf Woman

Last month, we posed the scenario of the Unidentifiable Signer, in which a nicely dressed woman approached you for a notarization, and provided an ID with a photo that didn’t bear much of a resemblance to the person in front of you. She explained that she’d recently lost weight and dyed her hair, but you were still skeptical. The question is: What do you do? Do you complete the notarization despite concerns about her ID, or do you find another way to identify the signer?

Our Facebook Community provided great answers, including New Jersey Notary Betty Lu Mitchell who said she’d request a more recent ID. Several Notaries said they would go through with the notarization if the signer could produce two credible witnesses, which is an acceptable practice in some states, but not all.

“I had (a signing) with a woman who had lost 100 pounds since her driver license photo was taken,” shared New Jersey Notary Michael Harris. However, his signer showed him photos of herself throughout her weight loss progress, which helped convince him she was who she claimed to be, despite changes in her appearance. This was acceptable, as the state of New Jersey doesn’t have any specific identification requirements.

Here’s what Bill Anderson, NNA Vice President of Legislative Affairs, had to say on the topic of identifying signers:

As with many scenarios, your best course of action depends on your state’s notarial laws.

In Florida and California, satisfactory evidence of identity means the absence of any suspicious circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe the signer is not who he or she claims to be. If you have reasonable suspicions that the person is not who she claims to be, ask your signer for another form of state-approved ID. If there are no other suspicious circumstances, you may proceed with the notarization.

In states where identification is required, the woman’s ID still might be acceptable despite the differences in appearance. Take all of the evidence on the card into account, not just the photo. Is the person’s height reasonably the same as on the ID? Does the signature reasonably resemble the signature on the ID even if there is a large discrepancy in weight?

Another consideration is that many states do not require the Notary to identify the signer of a jurat. In such cases, if the request is legal, you should perform the notarization, because identification is not technically required.

While concerns about forgery are paramount, particularly when dealing with transactions such as real estate deeds, mortgages, deeds of trust, last wills, or powers of attorney, refusing a notarization also can cause adverse results. You need to demonstrate that you have taken reasonable steps to verify a signer’s identity and have refused service because the signer couldn’t meet the requirements.

One Final Note On Safety

In any situation in which a signer becomes hostile or you fear for your safety, the safest thing to do is notarize the document and then call authorities later. You should never jeopardize your own safety over a notarization.

Kelle Clarke is a Contributing Editor with the National Notary Association.


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Add your comment

Cheryl Bumgarner

17 Nov 2014

If the signer could produce photo's of her progress though her weight loss, WHY didn't she go in and have her drivers license redone? When I lost a lot of weight that is what I did.

Margie Sisson

17 Nov 2014

I would still not notarize if someone threatened me. It would be your word against theirs and I can't believe you wouldn't be liable. Thank goodness I work in a place where there are others around but I wouldn't notarize if I was threatened.

Paula Loo

17 Nov 2014

I have become aware of my environment in that if it is not a public place, I will not perform it unless I know the person. Otherwise, I will share with the person in question that I have limitation just like they would if they were in my place.


17 Nov 2014

Here in California, we are required to get a thumb print, if someone still has doubts, there is always a final check with the Police and/or FBI. This a great way to dissuade some one from even trying.

Carl Jobe

18 Nov 2014

In NC you are permitted to take finger prints in your journal, if the person refuses to let you take their prints , then something is up and refuse the notarization.

Elizabeth DeCamp

18 Nov 2014

I once got a request to sign a document for someone who had recently had a gender transition and didn't update any of his/her information. Needless to say I refused.

Patricia Proctor

19 Jul 2021

Need 2 forms of ID Finger prints and witnesses . Review all sign documentation before release. Everything must be verified. If not I refuse.

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