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Need help spotting phony IDs and impostors? F.E.A.R. is your friend

A person handing out the id card

Updated 4-2-24. If you’re worried that a signer may be trying to fool you with a fake ID or stolen ID during a notarization, try 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 birthdate and signature on the card, and Texas includes the holder's birthdate in raised print at the bottom of the photo. 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 motor vehicle departments, including Illinois. 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 birthdate match the appearance of the person in front of you. However, it’s not always easy for Notaries to spot an imposter 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 birthdate or zip code while you are holding the card? If it’s an out-of-state ID, can they tell you the capital 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 the Editorial Manager at the National Notary Association.

Related Articles:

Is an expired ID acceptable for a notarization?

Additional Resources:

Guides for Checking IDs

View All: Best Practices


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.

Rhonda Cox

27 Apr 2017

I have not had any problems reading your articles.

E. Jackson

01 May 2017

I had no problem reading the article and it was very helpful.

R. Hodgman

04 Jun 2017

I am a 'NEWBE' in every sense ... I have no issues in receiving or viewing the articles. Thank you, so far I have learned many important 'HOW TO'S'


10 Apr 2018

I would feel silly asking someone if they know their state capital. You'd be surprized at the amount of people who wouldn't know the answer to that. Yes, it spelled "capital" not "capitol." I see many typos in the articles in these newsletters. The NNA needs to use a proofreader. And dozens of typos from folks that are commenting. And we are supposed to be professionals.

National Notary Association

10 Apr 2018

Thanks for bringing that to our attention, we've corrected the spelling in the article.

Teresa Gyure

27 May 2019

Isn't it a little hard to feel the ID to exam it or hold it up to a light if it is a Remote Notarization?

Rita R. Capello

01 Jun 2019

I appreciate the information. It is very helpful and look forward to additional information that will enhance my notarization proficienzy.

Vicki Faison

19 Oct 2020

I appreciate the wisdom and experience that flows from NNA articles.

Dusk Perras

11 Oct 2021

Thank you and all information received from NNA is very Helpful and appreciated, i also have no problem reading all the email i get.

David Turvy

11 Oct 2021

This information was very helpful, Thanks

Jacqueleen Garcia

03 Oct 2022

I have never had any issues, reading the bulletins or the articles

Master Young

03 Oct 2022

Thank you

Holly Schuchardt Ford

04 Aug 2023

Hello, I am wondering How To Report Suspicion of ID Theft and Tampering? I have a few people giving me trouble over an Inheritance. Please Save My Name and Contact Information. Holly Schuchardt Ford

National Notary Association

07 Aug 2023

Hello. If you suspect you are a victim of ID theft or fraud, you should contact your local law enforcement agency to file a report.

Bertha Dear

15 Apr 2024

Very helpful


15 Apr 2024

To BJW's comment regarding accuracy, proofreading, etc. - it's spelled surprised - not surprized. Thank you.

Rochelle Machado

15 Apr 2024

Super interesting and helpful article. Had no idea all these security features existed on the CA DL.

Leon Woodrn

15 Apr 2024

I have no problem reading article

Mel Eperthener

15 Apr 2024

Another great way to determine if the ID actually belongs to the person is to ask their astrological sign. This is a common question posed by bartenders and bouncers. Most people (even those of us who think star signs are ridiculous) know what our sign is. But even if you memorise the entire ID, you are likely not aware of what sign goes with the DOB on the ID. (Although, like with state capitals, this only works if the asker knows the answer)

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