Your Cookies are Disabled! NationalNotary.org sets cookies on your computer to help improve performance and provide a more engaging user experience. By using this site, you accept the terms of our cookie policy. Learn more.

Scams That Prey On Notaries

Notaries must be aware of common scams involving their services in order to protect themselves from fraud.

As Notaries, it’s our duty to help protect people from fraud.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t fall prey to fraud ourselves. Over the years I’ve come across a number of schemes that touch the Notary community.

Sometimes fraudsters victimize Notaries directly; sometimes they attempt to draw them into the deception as unwitting participants. Here are a few of the more common scams.

Mystery Shopper Scam
 

Many mobile Notaries earn extra income by working as a mystery shopper. But not all shop-for-pay opportunities are legitimate.

I recently witnessed this during a visit to my local bank. A customer was trying to deposit a check from an out-of-state company that had hired the customer to do some mystery shopping. It turned out that the check was fake, and that the bank was required to report this to the authorities.

The customer explained that she received the check in exchange for immediately wiring a portion of the check amount back to the company. She was to use the rest to pay herself and purchase items as a mystery shopper. Unfortunately, the bank manager informed the customer that she was a victim of a common scam.

This isn’t the only mystery shopping scam out there. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has a resource page about mystery shopping fraud. Also, check out Notary Bulletin articles on taking advantage of legitimate mystery shopping opportunities and other ways to earn income.

Cash Purchase Scam
 

This has become a common scam: A fraud ring tries to steal a property, typically a bank-owned home or similar property that is empty, and use it to get a fraudulent loan or sell it to an unsuspecting buyer.

Notary signing agents get caught up in it when they are brought in to conduct a closing on what appears to be a cash purchase. In reality, the scammers are impersonating buyers or sellers. Because no mortgage is involved, the normally required closing guidelines, including the identification requirements, are not in place. So Notaries sometimes are asked not to check the buyer’s identification at these transactions.

This has happened to me on several occasions. In most cases, the real estate agent asked me not to check IDs. If you’re only handling the buyer’s side of the transaction, there might not be a notarization involved in the signing. I still always ask to verify the signer’s identity. However, if a title company is involved in the transaction, the title insurance policy typically will require you to verify the identity.

Your Boss’ Scam
 

I often hear from both seasoned, and new Notaries, that their employer has requested that they notarize documents without ever seeing or speaking with the person who has signed the document.

Most of the time this is merely your boss’s effort to not inconvenience a client, but going along with the request still violates Notary law. A number of Notaries have told me of situations where the request stems from an outright fraud.

Typically, the boss is going through a divorce and is attempting to sell or mortgage property jointly owned with the spouse. So they come to the Notary employee and ask for a favor accompanied with an excuse for the absent spouse: “My wife’s out of town.” “My husband is not feeling well.”

And it can be hard to say no to your boss. But when the fraud is discovered, you are likely to get a call from an attorney or even a member of law enforcement. Failure to require personal appearance is probably the most common reason for claims being filed against Notaries. So hold firm and insist that every person whose signature you notarize appears before you.

Have you encountered similar situations? Please share them in the comments section below.

Daniel Lewis of Carmel, Indiana, is the founder of Lewis Notary Services Inc., a nationwide mobile service. He also teaches Notary best practices and is a former NNA Notary of The Year.

 

8 Comments

Add your comment

Mister J

10 Aug 2015

It would be nice if employers could become more educated and made to understand that you are not just "THEIR notary," (even if they paid for your notary commission) but that you are commissioned in a public office by the state that you live in, and that there are specific laws stipulating acceptable notarial practice. Unfortunately, in my experience, the employers that try to force you to perform improper notarizations are the unscrupulous, controlling types that make you feel like you will lose your job if you don't obey. And they try to skirt legalities if they can get away with it.

Lisa Hoffmeister

10 Aug 2015

I find that my boss brings me documents signed by his boss. I know them both and recognize both signatures so is it ok to notarize these?

National Notary Association

11 Aug 2015

Hello Lisa. Personal appearance by both signers before you during the notarization is still required.

Natalie de Clare

13 Aug 2015

All of these should be an axiom that they are illegal. If my boss did not like that I adhere to statutory Notary Public laws in my state then he can go find someone else, but soliciting me to break the law is a crime in itself: criminal solicitation (i.e. a misdemeanor crime). Furthermore, Notarial misconduct here in Washington is a criminal offense and you can get up to a year in jail and loose your commission. It is real easy, follow the law, end of discussion! You should know your respective state's notary laws very well. The fact that you would even consider violating Notary Public laws makes you unfit for the commission.

Michelle Riley

12 Nov 2015

Great article, Daniel and NNA. Thanks for timely reminders. At this year's NNA Conference a notary shared with me her firsthand experience with Mystery Shopper fraud.

Notarized4U

22 May 2016

The owners of a company I work for asked me to notarize docs for them which slso included their spouses signatures but they weren't present. I declined and explained it is against the law and I could lose my commission, be fined, and possible jail time. They understood, and respected me for it; but found someone who did it.

Patricia Dixon

17 May 2018

I am an NNA Certified Notary Signing Agent, I own a mobile notary business in the state of Georgia, I recently got a call to notarize a deed, I explained to the caller that in the state of Georgia an attorney must be involved, he got very belligerent and told me that I was misinformed, he further stated that his wife is a notary public and she notarize deeds all of the time without any attorney being involved. I refused his request and he was not happy about it. I would rather lose a hundred dollars in signing fees than having to pay thousands of dollars for attorney's fees.

Rosemarie Marotta

27 Oct 2019

Is "Hire Notary" Legit?

Leave a Comment

Required *

All comments are reviewed and if approved, will display.