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Notary Basics: How To Deal With Unreliable Or Suspicious ID

red-card-resized.jpgUpdated 8-14-18. From foreign passports and worn-out library cards to expired driver’s licenses and inmate identity cards, Notaries can be confronted with a dizzying array of IDs and identification scenarios.

The fact is, Notaries in all states are responsible for ensuring the identity of their signers and can be subject to civil or criminal liability if they fail to do so. Yet many states do not offer clear guidelines. Even in the states that do have identification requirements in law, circumstances may arise that aren’t addressed.

To make matters more difficult, people often change their names and physical appearance, and many signers can’t produce any ID at all.

The key to ID conundrums comes down to following key practices that help you exercise sound judgment.

Know Your State ID Rules
 

The first rule for identifying signers is to know (and follow) your state guidelines. Some states specify by name the ID cards you can accept, but many other states just prescribe the elements in an acceptable ID and leave it to the Notary to determine if the identification presented meets requirements. Here are some examples of state ID guidelines:

California not only lists specific IDs CA Notaries may accept in its Notary laws, but requires the ID to also be current or issued within the past five years.

Florida provides a list of acceptable IDs in Florida Statutes 117.05[5]. Florida requires these IDs to be current or issued within the past five years and also to include a serial or identifying number.

Pennsylvania updated its Notary laws October 26, 2017, to permit Notaries to accept a passport, driver’s license or government-issued nondriver identification card, which is current and unexpired. Notaries may also accept a form of government identification issued to an individual, which: (a) is current; (b) contains the signature or a photograph of the individual; and (c) is satisfactory to the notarial officer (57 Pa.C.S. 307[b]).

Texas requires an identification document presented by a signer to be issued by the federal government or any state government and contain the photograph and signature of the signer (CPRC 121.005[a]). 

If your state offers no specific guidelines — and some don’t — the standard of professional care would be to request a current ID issued by the state or federal government that contains the signer’s photograph, physical description and signature. Examples of acceptable ID that have all of the above include:

  • State driver’s license or non-driver’s ID;
  • A passport;
  • A federal ID, such as a military identification card;
  • A state, county or local government ID; and
  • A lawful permanent resident card otherwise referred to as a “green card.”

However, following state law or a general standard of care only takes you so far, and there are still situations where you’ll be asked to make a judgment call. 

Identification Photo Doesn’t Resemble The Signer
 

Notaries exist to prevent forgeries, but spotting fakes is not always easy. One of the warning signs that something’s amiss is when the photo and description on valid identification do not bear much resemblance to the signer, the ID may be expired, the signer may have gained significant weight since the photo was taken, or undergone cosmetic surgery or gender reassignment.

The first step is to examine the ID presented with a discerning eye and realize that every notarization presents an opportunity for forgery. If there’s any doubt, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Do I have reason to suspect the signer isn’t who they claim to be? In Florida and California, satisfactory evidence of identity means the absence of any suspicious circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to doubt the identity of the signer. This is a good practice everywhere. If you have reasonable suspicions, ask your signer for another form of state-approved ID. Also examine your state laws with regards to using a credible witness (or two, as required by some states).
  • Have I taken all of the evidence on the ID into account? When making the final judgment call, 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? Eye color? Do all signatures match? If not, you may need to find an alternative way to identify the signer.

The Card Looks Odd Or Somehow Altered
 

Everything about the signer’s official, state-issued driver’s license may appear legitimate — but something still doesn’t seem right.

  • Does the ID appear different than the standard format? While you can’t be expected to be an expert on all forms of ID, you should familiarize yourself with your own state’s IDs since you’ll likely encounter those most often. Learn to recognize security features such as embedded holograms, micro-printing and “ghost” photos. Use a reference book, such as the Keesing Documentchecker Guide, to learn how security tools, such as a small magnifying glass or blue UV light help expose suspicious IDs.
  • Has the ID been modified? While most drivers’ licenses and state IDs are laminated, any additional lamination applied to the ID would be considered tampering with or altering the license which is illegal. In this case, or any other case involving tampering, it would no longer be an acceptable ID. 

When The Signer Has No Acceptable Form Of ID
 

According to a recent survey by the Brennan Center for Justice, millions of American citizens do not have government-issued forms of identification. Many tend to be poor, elderly or minority. You may also confront the challenge of notarizing documents for a minor or a homeless person wholly lacking ID.

In cases where signers lack valid ID or you are unclear if an ID is acceptable, review your state requirements concerning the use of credible witnesses to identify signers.

Important Facts About Signer Identification
 

  • Temporary driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, birth or marriage certificates, credit cards or driver’s licenses without photographs are not generally considered acceptable forms of identification.
  • Some states allow a grace period for expired licenses; be sure you know your state law before accepting an expired ID.
  • In some states, jurats do not require an ID for notarization. Generally, copy certifications don’t require it either.
  • Civil or criminal liability for failure to appropriately identify a signer by satisfactory evidence can include hefty fines and/or a commission suspension or revocation.

Kelle Clarke is a Contributing Editor with the National Notary Association

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You can learn about Notary practices for your state from your state's Notary regulating agency website or your state’s Notary handbook. Or check out the NNA’s Notary Primers or U.S. Notary Reference Manual, which is a NNA member benefit. The NNA’s Notary Essentials eLearning course guides you through all your state's requirements.

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6 Comments

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rick rockburn

14 Sep 2015

always good to write down what id document is used for id.. swear to it--then seal it

Chris Bolaji

12 Sep 2016

The above additional information on how to deal with unreliable or suspicious ID can be very helpful when applied with sound judgment.

Grace Keshishyan

12 Sep 2016

I think it is time for Notaries to have an ID scan machine and be able to released with all the none sense that is going on. Just saying.

John Kaloper

12 Sep 2016

I feel with Loan Docs , it should be the responsibility of the Lender, Bank to verify all of the proper I.D before a loan is complete before sending a notary for the signing. I have been on several signings where I have to collect a copy of I.D and also been to a scheduled signing, wasting my time driving there only to find unacceptable documentation as proof of identity. Because many have a Mexico Matricula Consulet card thinking that this is acceptable I.D for a Mortgage loan and it is not. (Blame Bank of America for this giving them a home loan in the first place). The only thing I get is a $35 dollar print fee.

Lawanda

30 Oct 2017

This information is good to know, but I'm commissioned in Michigan and would like publication on Michigan Laws if possible...

Angie

20 Aug 2018

I was expecting an article about what you should do if you are presented with questionable Identification. Like, what do you do if the person becomes aggressive because you said it's not valid, what if they force you to Notarize, what then? For those horror stories. Do you notarize and when it's safe, report it somewhere? Not saying the above information wasn't good, just expected more on how to deal with this sort of thing. Hoping it never does.

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