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Notaries Post Mixed Results In Face-Matching Research Survey

Notaries participate in a face-matching survey to provide insights about which techniques are most helpful in identifying signers

Updated 3-22-16. Members of the NNA’s Notary community who took part in a recent face-matching research survey correctly identified imposters about 72 percent of the time.

Those results are in line with earlier studies and underscore the challenge of correctly identifying people, said the survey’s co-author, Megan Papesh, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Louisiana State University.

More than 1,150 Notaries took the survey, the largest group of professional participants ever studied in this field of research. The average age of the respondents was 48, and 86 percent were women.

“Having Notaries participate in this research has been invaluable,” Papesh said. “Notaries check IDs as part of their jobs, and they take it very seriously. If they make a mistake it could be devastating.”

The Survey Details

The survey consisted of 30 pairs of photos. Each pair included a driver’s license photo and a recent photo of an individual who looked like the person in the driver’s license picture.

In half of the pairs, the photos were of the same person. In the other half, they were of imposters. The Notary participants correctly identified the photo pairs that matched about 80 percent of the time.

That’s roughly the same rate posted by two other groups she surveyed recently: bank tellers and university students.

Tellers properly identified 82 percent of the matching photo pairs, and students 78 percent.

However, both groups performed slightly better than Notaries in spotting imposters. Students did the best, identifying 78 percent of the mismatched photo pairs, and tellers catching 77 percent.

Papesh noted, however, that the difference could be due to the small sample size for both tellers (72) and students (49) compared to Notaries.

With such a high number of Notaries taking part in the survey, “we tend to more closely approximate reality, so it is possible that the tellers' and students’ performances are exaggerated by the influence of one or two high-scoring individuals,” she said. “Similarly high-scoring individuals in the NNA group would have less impact.”

One of the surprises of the survey is that new Notaries performed as well as people who had been Notaries for more than 20 years.

“Overall, it didn’t seem like experience made a difference,” Papesh said.

How often the respondents verified identities did seem to matter. Notaries who check 15 to 20 IDs a week were much better at spotting imposters than Notaries who checked 10-15 IDs a week.

Performance by experiences







Performance by ID frequency








The Next Step

Papesh noted that performance also varied wildly between photo pairs. The next research phase will show the photo pairs with the best and worst results to a new study group and track their eye movements.

This should provide some insight about which of the features trip up people and which features prove most helpful in correctly identifying people.

Based on the results of all three groups, she is developing face-matching techniques that she plans to discuss at the workshops she is presenting at NNA 2016 Conference in June.

Michael Lewis is Managing Editor of member publications for the National Notary Association.

Related Articles:

The Notary Challenge: Matching Faces To ID Harder Than You Think

WWYD: The Case Of The Unidentifiable Signer-Your Answers

Notary Basics: How To Deal With Unreliable Or Suspicious ID

Additional Resources:

Webinar: ID Fraud — A Notary Trap

2015 ID Checking Guide: US & Canada

ID Checking Guide: International Edition

View All: Best Practices


Add your comment


18 Nov 2015

I'd be interested in taking the survey myself to see how I do. Any chance it can be posted online eventually?

National Notary Association

18 Nov 2015

Hi Becky. Here's a link to the survey:

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