Your Cookies are Disabled! 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.

Need Help Spotting Phony IDs And Impostors? F.E.A.R. Is Your Friend

Use the FEAR system to spot fake ID

Many states tell Notaries what types of ID they may accept — but they don’t teach you how to spot the difference between real and counterfeit identification. And what do you do if the ID is genuine, but it was stolen by the person in front of you?

If you’re worried that a signer may be trying to fool you with a counterfeit ID, you can use a system adopted by many bartenders to spot fake driver’s licenses called “F.E.A.R.” (Feel, Examine, Ask, Return):

The F.E.A.R. Method

1. Feel the document. Genuine driver’s licenses and state-issued IDs often include raised lettering, numbers or symbols on the card as security features — for example, a California driver’s license has a raised imprint of the driver’s birth date on the card. If the card lacks these features, that may be a possible warning sign of a counterfeit. Another clue to feel for is thickness. A card that has been tampered with and re-laminated will feel thicker than normal.

2. Examine the elements of the ID. Look over the ID and hold it up to a light. If it’s a driver’s license, is there a hologram visible — a common security feature used by state motor vehicle departments? If so, then it’s more likely the ID is on the level. But if the ID lacks a hologram, or if any of the printed lettering is blurry or spelled incorrectly, these are possible signs of ID tampering or counterfeiting.

You should also check if the photo, description and birth date match the appearance of the person in front of you. However, it’s not always easy for Notaries to spot an impostor from an ID photo. Sometimes a person’s appearance changes from an older picture due to illness, weight changes or other factors. That’s when you need to go to step 3.

3. Ask the signer about information on the ID. If something about the signer’s appearance or behavior doesn’t match, ask the person questions while you are examining their ID. For example, can the signer tell you their birth date or zip code while you are holding the card? If it’s an out-of-state ID, can they tell you the capitol of the state they are from? If they can’t answer simple questions about the information on the ID, chances are something is wrong.

4. Return the ID if you’re satisfied with the ID. Refuse to notarize if you’re not. Ultimately, it’s your call whether to accept an ID as genuine or not. If the ID and the signer appear to be genuine, return the ID to the signer and proceed. But if you’re still uneasy or something still seems wrong, stop the notarization. However, don’t put yourself at risk by trying to restrain the signer or confiscate the suspicious ID.

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



Add your comment

Bruce Hess

17 Apr 2017

I cannot read this article

National Notary Association

17 Apr 2017

Hello. If you are having issues accessing an article, please email us at with a description of the problem and what type of device and browser you are using, and we'll try to help you resolve it. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Phil Schobert

17 Apr 2017

Let me see the screen already!!! You send me the bulletin to my confirmed address and this screen always pops up and does not allow me to see what is in the bulletin. STOP IT ALREADY. I don't have time to play this game every time you send out a bulletin with "potentially significant information". I can log into my NNA account and still not see the information you have in the NNA Bulletins

National Notary Association

17 Apr 2017

Hello Phil. We're sorry you are having trouble viewing our Bulletin articles-they are open for everyone to read and there should be no pop-ups blocking or preventing you from viewing articles. If you can please contact us at and provide us a description or screenshot of the problem you are having, and let us know what type of device and browser you are using, we'll try to help you resolve the issue.

Leave a Comment

Required *

All comments are reviewed and if approved, will display.