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What To Do If Someone Steals Your Notary Identity

Learn how you can help protect yourself against Notary identify theft.

Notaries are called upon every day to protect the public against identity theft. But what happens when a Notary’s identity is stolen?

Across the nation, savvy con artists are forging Notary seals and signatures to commit real estate and other types of crimes. While states do what they can to battle the issue, Notaries need to be aware of the threat, understand the ways that they can help prevent it, and know exactly what they can do to protect themselves if it happens to them.

One Notary Identity Theft Crime; Many Victims
 

In a highly publicized case in Philadelphia, criminals were able to forge Notary seals and signatures to steal hundreds of homes from unsuspecting homeowners. Sadly, the Pennsylvania crime spree is far from being an isolated case. Seal forgeries are also on the rise in California, where the perpetrators often target the elderly, the poor and immigrants. In such cases, Notaries may pay the price.

When scammers use forged Notary seals and signatures, there are many victims. A forged signature and falsified Notary seal can be all it takes to transfer a deed to a home, leaving the homeowner without his property, the buyer without his purchase, and the Notary, whose signature and seal has been forged, smack dab in the middle of the crime — left to fend off possible criminal charges.

While some cases involve Notary negligence — such as a seal not properly secured — the fact is, in an alarming number of cases, the identity theft is in no way the fault of the Notary.

Thieves are able to access a Notary’s seal stamp and signature once it appears on public records, such as deeds or other documents. A knowledgeable forger can then copy that seal and signature, using a number of fraudulent methods, to steal property or other valuables.

In most cases, Notaries are unaware that their seal and signature have been used fraudulently until the crime is detected, sometimes years after the phony notarization is completed.

The Notary may only find out after being named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit or law enforcement authorities come asking about their potential involvement in the crime.

How Notaries Can Protect Themselves Against Notary Identity Theft
 

The obvious first line of defense against identity theft is to prevent the theft: always secure your Notary tools. Never leave a seal stamp or journal where others can access them, even colleagues or family. If you work in an office, secure your seal and journal when away from your work area, even for a quick  break. And never leave your tools visible in your car.

Unfortunately, you cannot stop the scammer who randomly picks your seal and signature to copy from publicly recorded documents. However, there are critical steps you can take to ensure the best outcome, should your Notary seal or signature ever be brought into question in a court of law.  

  • Report any instances of fraud immediately: In one case, a perpetrator of a fraud ring in three Southern California counties was brought to justice when an alert Notary reported a forgery involving the Notary’s seal to authorities.
  • Keep a meticulous journal: Whether or not you live in a state where journals are required, maintaining a record of all signings protects you. A Notary’s detailed journal often provides key evidence in Notary seal forgery cases. If you do not currently keep a record of your notarizations, you may want to consider using a Notary journal with sewn-construction binding to help protect you in the event of identity fraud.
  • Protect yourself with Errors & Omissions Insurance: If a lawsuit is brought against you, even if you’ve done nothing wrong, you could face the daunting challenge of having to respond to the claim. Based on the seal forgery cases handled by the NNA’s insurance program, it can cost nearly $7,000 on average and as much as $25,000 to be dismissed from the case. You will need a strong defense provided by an attorney who is experienced in handling Notary seal forgery cases, which is why having Notary E&O insurance is so important. With a Notary E&O insurance policy, the insurer has an obligation to defend you against such claims, the insurer has an obligation to defend you against such claims — even if they are entirely bogus. The attorney representing you can apply a number of effective defenses, including bringing experts in to prove that the forged seal and signature are not yours. Without E&O insurance, you’ll have to pay an attorney out of your own pocket to mount a legal defense.  

For an expanded version of this article, members can see the October 2014 edition of The National Notary magazine.

Kelle Clark is a regular contributor to the National Notary Association.

 

6 Comments

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Zimin Wu

08 Jul 2015

unable to read if I don't leave a common, don't know what to common for!

National Notary Association

08 Jul 2015

Hello. You should be able to view the article without posting a comment. If you are having an issue, please email us at social@nationalnotary.org, let us know what device and browser you are using and describe the error you are encountering, and we'll be happy to help you resolve the issue.

betty

08 Jul 2015

It's amazing how many notaries I have met at signings, those that are not Signing Agents, who are unaware of keeping a journal. Yes, it's time consuming, yes, I have filled out ahead of time all notarized documents and then had a refusal-to-sign on several occasions, and I even have borrowers sign when it is an application only, but I try to be complete for every notarized document signed by every signer. I think it also helps to have the NNA seal on the outside of my two stamps, the office stamp and the travel stamp.

Jas

14 Apr 2017

With identity theft being very prevalent these days, one can never be too careful in protecting confidential information...this brings to an interesting thought...How do NNA protect its members from their info being released or compromised? If someone knows your NNA Member ID...can that person call into NNA and impersonate the NNA member to dig around for information, change account information such as addresses and even order supplies? I am sure NNA has very good measures for protection...but I thought I asked so all current or future NNA members will have the peace of mind of knowing how their info are being protected.

National Notary Association

17 Apr 2017

Hello and thank you for your question. The NNA takes member and customer privacy very seriously. If someone calls in identifying themselves with a member number, it is standard procedure to require the caller to confirm their identity by verifying additional data before any information is shared with the caller. The NNA is also compliant and certified with PCI and SOC standards of security for safeguarding customer information. For more information on these standards, please see here: https://www.nationalnotary.org/about-the-nna/certifications

Tim christian

06 Aug 2017

It's been a few years back now but I'm afraid it's gonna end up catching up to my ex wife. Her mother newly got married in 2012 and he has a real estate business. Well her mom couldn't be a notary and sign all his very questionable documents. They begged my ex wife to do it then she went to the classes and finished but she never went to the county to pick her stamp up. Well a couple weeks later I found a notebook where my mother n law had practiced signing her daughter's name a minimum of a thousand times in a notebook. I know they are illegally using it and it's gonna be my ex wife's problem when it's her mom and the husbands. I have their names with business name. When he divorced from his first wife a year prior to remarrying my real father n law did some research and he saw that my ex wife's mother and husband had put some of his properties in their names without their knowledge so he could hid any assets he had so he didn't have to pay his ex wife of 30 years any money at all. If someone can point me in the right direction I'd really appreciate it. Thanks!

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