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A Notary’s Guide To Spotting Fake IDs

Updated 1-22-20. Verifying the identity of signers can be challenging considering how many types of ID are in circulation — and how good many of the fakes are.

In an effort to cut down on ID fraud, most states have significantly improved the security features of the driver’s licenses and identity cards they issue. This infographic from the publishers of the I.D. Checking Guide depicts some of the more common security features that can help Notaries verify the identity of their signers.

How to spot a Fake ID

1. The signer’s physical description on the ID doesn’t match the signer.

Always be sure to compare the physical description of the signer on the ID to the person in front of you. If the signer is 6’2” but his driver’s license lists him as 5’0”, or a twentysomething signer presents you with a license that said she was born in 1963, then something’s definitely amiss.

2. Misspellings on the ID.

Spelling errors on an ID card — such as the state name or other information being misspelled on a driver’s license — are a warning sign that the ID is a counterfeit and wasn’t produced by a legitimate agency.

3. Look for signs the ID has been tampered with.

If the signer’s photo on the ID seems unusually thick or stands out from the ID, it’s possible a second photo has been pasted or glued on top of the original. Other signs that an ID may have been tampered with are peeling or damaged laminate on the card, or blurry or smeared text.

4. Check for state-specific watermarks and security features.

State-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards often include security features such as holograms or specially printed images as protection against tampering. The I.D. Checking Guide provides a state-by-state breakdown of IDs and their key safety features that can help Notaries distinguish genuine IDs from fakes.

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.

Additional Resources:

NNA Hotline

Notary Essentials


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R C Leyva

02 Jan 2017

Want tp read articles I am a member

National Notary Association

03 Jan 2017

Hello. There is no membership requirement to read articles, they are available to everyone. If you are having any issues reading them, please contact us at with a description of the issue you're having and we'll try to help you solve it.

Anna Gutierrez

02 Jan 2017

I'm in California and received a QuitClaim Deed through a signing service for a property in Florida. In Florida, it is required to have 2 witnesses which I requested the signer to bring. At the time of the signing, one of the witnesses had an "Ohio Driver's License" which underneath clearly said "Not to be used for Identification Purposes". This must have been a fake "ID" but it looked real to me. Looking closely at the ID is a must!

Patricia Sarver

03 Jan 2017

Where can I obtain the ID Checking Guide? Thank you Pat

National Notary Association

03 Jan 2017

Hi Pat: You can order the ID Checking Guide online here: Happy New Year!


08 Jan 2018

What steps should be taken when presented with a fake ID?

National Notary Association

09 Jan 2018

Hello. Obviously, you should not proceed with the notarization if you have reason to believe you have been presented with fake ID. You should record the reason for your refusal in your journal. If you suspect fraud has taken place, you may wish to contact local law enforcement and report it.


21 Aug 2018

Anna Gutierrez when it says not for identification it doesn't mean its a fake the federal government requires certain security features by all states to be classified as what the government calls a "real ID" (its just a classification the feds give for states with all the security features) which all states will be required by 2020 if your state doesn't use real id qualified id s by then you will have to use a passport to board a plain in 2020 but what they gave as identification was most likely good enough for anything at the state level or bellow hope that helps

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