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Notary Tip: Thumbprints And Privacy Issues

Notaries Must Respect Signer Privacy When Asking For A Thumbprint

Updated 5-29-18.Collecting signer thumbprints for a journal entry has long been considered an effective way to deter fraud. But Notaries must always respect and protect a signer's privacy when asking for a thumbprint. 

The Case For Collecting Thumbprints
 

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, biometrics, such as thumbprints, are the "measurable biological (anatomical or physiological) or behavioral characteristics used for the identification of an individual."

As a biometric identifier, a signer's thumbprint affixed in a journal of notarial acts offers irrefutable identification of the signer and helps Notaries prevent impersonation and/or forgery. It is for this reason that the practice is still heralded in some areas, particularly for transactions involving real estate and powers of attorney documents.

Currently, two states require the practice of collecting signer thumbprints. California law requires a journal thumbprint record for all documents affecting real property, as well as all powers of attorney. (Government Code, Section 8206.)

In Illinois, Notaries are required to complete a notarial record and take a thumbprint impression of signers when notarizing all “documents of conveyance” transferring title to residential real estate property located within Cook County.

In both California and Illinois, law enforcement and public prosecutors have lauded the value of thumbprints as effective in preventing and prosecuting frauds.

Privacy Issues And Collecting Signer Thumbprints
 

Despite the value of collecting thumbprints as a safeguard against fraud, there are issues associated with the practice; namely, privacy concerns and tightening regulations regarding the collection of such biometric data.

We now live in an age filled with high-tech fraud, identity theft and corporate data breaches that can, in an instant, expose the personal and financial information of millions of consumers. This ongoing concern over individuals' private information, particularly regarding the collection, use and storage of certain biometric identifiers, has become a major problem — one that some states and even private businesses are looking to regulate. Several of these changes directly impact how Notaries are allowed to collect and retain signer thumbprints.

Texas law, for example, states that a biometric identifier (which would include a journal thumbprint) captured for a commercial purpose may be disclosed only under certain circumstances and must be destroyed within a certain amount of time (Business and Commerce Code Section 503.01). Because Notary journals are considered public record in Texas, the Secretary of State’s office actually discourages Notaries Public from capturing biometric identifiers from signers in their journals. Texas is currently considering a proposed rule to prevent Notaries from collecting signer thumbprints for records of remote online notarizations, but has not officially enacted the rule at this time. 

And it's not just state governments that are seeking to regulate the collection of thumbprints. A couple of years ago, a major mortgage lender issued a bulletin prohibiting the Notary Signing Agents handling its loans from collecting thumbprints in their journals if they did not have a Notary commission in the states of California or Illinois. In states that do not require Notaries to keep a journal and do not have a thumbprint requirement, such as Florida, Notaries may not refuse to notarize because a signer does not wish to provide a thumbprint

Given this heightened caution about guarding personal identifying information, it is important for Notaries to know ahead of time if their state allows or regulates the collection and usage of signer thumbprints and proceed accordingly. NNA members can access our Notary Hotline anytime they are unsure of their state’s regulations regarding thumbprinting.

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

Additional Resources:

Privacy Tips For Notary Signing Agents

 

28 Comments

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Shari Erickson

27 Jul 2015

I work as a Nortary Public in California. I know that thumbprints are required for real estate and powers of attorney. If I'm notarizing a document that is outside of that scope would I forego that thumbprint? Right now I have a thumbpriint in my journal for all documents, just as an added identifier. Not necessary?

National Notary Association

28 Jul 2015

Hello. CA Notaries are required to obtain a journal entry thumbprint when notarizing any instrument affecting real property or a power of attorney. The requirement does not, however, apply to a deed of reconveyance or a trustee’s deed resulting from a decree of foreclosure or a non-judicial foreclosure pursuant to CC 2924 (GC 8206[a][2][G]). Aside from those documents specified under CA law, you are not required to ask for a thumbprint when notarizing other types of documents. If a signer refuses to provide a thumbprint that is not required by state law for your journal entry , you must respect their privacy and accept their refusal.

eblum@usa.net

27 Jul 2015

cannot read articles

National Notary Association

04 Aug 2015

Hello. We have sent you a message to see if we can help you resolve the issue.

Cathy Wong

28 Jul 2015

A handful of times, I have had an attorney call me asking about a signer signing a trust (distribute a person or persons assets) or letter stating guardianship of children. The thumbprint was not required for these documents, but they ensured their wishes were kept. Their thumbprints proved they signed the documents.

Cathy Wong

28 Jul 2015

A handful of times, I have had an attorney call me asking about a signer signing a trust (distribute a person or persons assets) or letter stating guardianship of children. The thumbprint was not required for these documents, but they ensured their wishes were kept. Their thumbprints proved they signed the documents.

Laxman

26 Nov 2015

very directive

K. Schroeder

10 Apr 2016

Cathy: are you saying that if you had not collected those thumbprints, that the trust would have been disputed (successfully)? And that, having collected them, you know you deterred an incident of fraud? Were the prints examined in a court? How did having them affect anything? Please explain. Thanks!

Gina

12 May 2016

Is it required in Massachusetts to have a thumbprint in the journal book?

National Notary Association

12 May 2016

Hello. No, Massachusetts Notaries are not required to take a signer's thumbprint or fingerprint for their journal entries.

Shawnee Norden

12 Jun 2016

Hey blog post ! I Appreciate the insight ! Does anyone know if my business can get a template a form document to fill out ?

Laurie Flanigan

12 Jul 2016

I am a notary in California. Do you need to obtain a thumbprint for an Affidavit of Successor Trustee which is just putting on record title a new trustee affecting real property? Thank you.

National Notary Association

25 Jul 2016

Hello. CA Notaries must obtain a journal entry thumbprint for any notarized document affecting real property, except for a trustee’s deed resulting from a decree of foreclosure, a nonjudicial foreclosure pursuant to Section 2924 of the Civil Code, or a deed of reconveyance. (GC 8206[a][2][G]).

roger s. peters

10 Sep 2016

I am in Illinois and I read the one article about notary, so if I want to have thumbprints on all my transactions, beside the required documents for cook county , I can do this but if the customer refuses, beside the required documents for cook county, I have to abide by the customer's right to not have to provide.

Joseph Zarek

29 Nov 2016

Is a Notary required or recommended to sign fingerprint cards for State Childcare Checks; specifically for the State of Ohio; and if so, where can this requirement or recommendation be found in the form of an Instruction, Policy, Rule, Regulation, or Law?

National Notary Association

01 Dec 2016

Hi Joseph. Generally the fingerprint cards are signed and witnessed, but it is not stipulated that the witness must be a Notary. However, a Notary could act as a witness in a non-notarial capacity without using his/her official signature or seal. Here are some links with more information on fingerprinting: https://www.fastfingerprints.com/Public/CardScan.aspx https://www.mcohio.org/Sheriff/PRINTS_Checklist.pdf

Sharlene

04 Apr 2017

A friend is getting married and wants to get a signature tree. It is a picture of a tree where the guests will put their thumbprints on it, (to resemble leaves) and then sign their names next to their thumb print. If a thief breaks into their house, can he use it for identity fraud?

Daniel Lovejoy

26 Jun 2017

According to the Attorney General for the State of Hawai'i, thumbprints are mandatory. I asked, and it was confirmed.

Michelle Brant

26 Jun 2017

Do anyone know what websites for becoming a traveling nortay...??

Maya Joseph

27 Sep 2017

Do we need to do thumbprint in NJ? Is it allowed if we want to for extra security measure?

National Notary Association

28 Sep 2017

Hello Maya. New Jersey does not require asking for a signer's thumbprint for a journal entry. While you may ask the signer for a thumbprint as additional protection against fraud, please remember that the signer has the choice to refuse to provide one since it is not required by state law.

Lavayda

28 Sep 2017

Where can I get a thumb print notary in Chicago for a quit claim deed

national Notary Association

29 Sep 2017

Hello. You can look up Notaries in your area on SigningAgent.com or other online directories, or search online for "Notary" or "mobile Notary" in your area.

katherine hensley

11 Nov 2017

i sold my house 2 years ago. It was my first and only house i ever sold. So i'm not sure if the things that took place with the sale of my house were legal or not or because i didn't have the knowledge what they can do and not do its my fault. One of the things is being charged for a notary and the notary stamping and saying that i proved my identity. I never even met with a notary. i never gave my thumbprint to anyone either. from riverside, ca.

National Notary Association

13 Nov 2017

Hello. If someone is claiming to have notarized your signature without your knowledge on real estate documents, you may be a victim of fraud. If you suspect fraud has taken place, you can contact the Riverside District Attorney's office Real Estate Fraud hotline at (877) 723-7779.

Megan Horniak

11 Jul 2018

Hi I just got recommissioned in PA is fingerprint mandatory didn't need it before thanks

Sharon VanAtta

23 Aug 2018

Hi. Are thumprints required for notary journals in the State of NJ?

National Notary Association

23 Aug 2018

Hello. According to the “New Jersey Notary Public Manual,” “required information includes: 1) date and time of notary act, 2) type of act (i.e., acknowledgment), 3) title of document, 4) date document was signed, 5) signature, printed name and address of each signer, and if applicable, each witness, and 6) form of ID -- e.g., identification document, personal knowledge, or credible witness. Note: Journals should be bound to prevent tampering.”

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