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The 3 Ways Notaries Can Properly Identify Signers

ID-passport-license-resized.jpgUpdated 10-30-18. Properly verifying the identity of signers is one of a Notary’s core responsibilities. There are three primary methods of identifying signers, each with its own set of guidelines, procedures and challenges.

Method 1: Identification Cards
 

Perhaps the most common way to identify signers is using identification cards. But with hundreds of different types of government-issued IDs out there, and millions of U.S. residents lacking proper IDs, this method is not always as straightforward as it seems.

Some states, including California and Florida, provide specific lists of acceptable IDs. Others provide a list of required ID elements, allowing Notaries to accept any ID that contains the required elements. For example, Texas requires an ID to be current, issued by the federal government or any state government and contain a photograph and signature. Texas also allows Notaries to accept a current foreign passport as ID, but only for notarizations related to residential real estate transactions.

Other states have neither a list of specific IDs nor required ID elements, so it’s up to the Notary to decide if an ID is acceptable. In such cases, the NNA recommends following The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility (Standard III-B-1) standard of asking for a reliable ID containing at least a photograph.

Method 2: Personal Knowledge
 

Relying on “personal knowledge” means that you know the signer personally and are willing to vouch for his or her identity.


All states except California allow Notaries to identify signers through personal knowledge.

Personal knowledge guidelines vary from state to state. Texas permits notarizing for an individual "personally known" to the Notary but provides no additional details. Florida defines personal knowledge as "having an acquaintance, derived from association with the individual, which establishes the individual’s identity with at least a reasonable certainty.”

When you vouch for the signer’s identity, you should be certain. There could be serious consequences — including the potential for criminal penalties — if you are wrong.

Many states have laws as to what constitutes personal knowledge. A common rule, for example, says that the Notary should know the signer "over a period of time." In other words, you would not use personal knowledge to verify the identity of a casual acquaintance.

Method 3: Credible Identifying Witnesses
 

Many states allow you to use one or two credible identifying witnesses to identify a signer. With this method, a third party must know the signer and be willing to verify their identity, basically acting as a “human ID card” for the signer.

Some states require the identifying witness to know both the signer and the Notary. Other states do not have that requirement as long as identifying witnesses present satisfactory proof of their identity, such as an acceptable ID card (Texas changed its laws in 2018 to allow the use of credible identifying witnesses who can provide qualifying ID to the Notary in addition to credible witnesses personally known to the Notary). 

Make sure to follow all your state’s requirements, such as administering an oath or affirmation for the witness.

Notaries in all states are legally responsible for verifying the identity of their signers for certain notarial acts, and they can risk civil, criminal and administrative liability if they fail to properly do so. If you have any questions with regards to identifying signers, you can contact your Secretary of State’s office (or other Notary commissioning agency), or reach out to the NNA Hotline for immediate assistance.

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

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You can learn about ID requirements for your state from your state’s Notary handbook, website or statutes. Or check out the NNA’s Notary Primers or U.S. Notary Reference Manual, which is a member benefit. The NNA’s Notary Essentials eLearning course guides you through your state’s ID rules as well as identification best practices.

 

8 Comments

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Larry Fuller

21 Jan 2016

Keep being required to make comment. WHERE is article?

National Notary Association

25 Jan 2016

Hello Mr. Fuller. Articles should not require any special restrictions to view. If you are having an issue, please email us at social@nationalnotary.org with a description of the problem and the type of device you're using and we'll try to help you resolve it.

Carolyn

05 Dec 2016

"Some states, including California and Florida, provide specific lists of acceptable IDs, " When you provide a link for those specific lists, please link the list, not a 109 page document where you cannot find the answer!

National Notary Association

05 Dec 2016

Hello Carolyn. We include a complete summary of each state's Notary laws to ensure all necessary information is available to our readers. Some states, like California, have more extensive laws than others, and their entries are longer as a result.

A C Dye

15 May 2017

The question has been answered...the other list of acceptable forms of ID and if not available...then in California we can use 2 credible witnesses....making sure you log into your journal the witness photo ID information and I also have them sign and take a thumbprint....

Theresa Shannon

27 Nov 2017

Identifying a client was tricky this weekend. He was 63; his Drivers License had just his name- no III, his social security card said JR. As did a Medicare card, and his Birth Certificate said Jr. He was trying to take a loan and sign a Trust Certificate that said III. His wife said he used all three interchangeabley and no one ever questions it. I did not know her so couldn’t use as a credible witness. I had this situation before and after declining learned from the loan officer that the SR had been in Europe and son was trying to cash in on the trust. So this weekend I had no problem declining and asking to be removed from the job. This loan officer was not understanding and quickly found another notary to do it. I see my job as to IDENTIFY the signing party, then witness and execute the documents at hand.

Donald Wilkins

28 Nov 2017

Theresa, I believe you did the right thing in both cases.

Joan Wintersgill

20 Aug 2018

When is the finger print to be used???

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