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What Would You Do Answers: The Case Of The Covered-Up Face

What Would You Do Answers: The Case of the Covered-Up Face

Verifying the identity of signers arguably is one of a Notary’s most important duties. The scenario we posed last week, in which a female signer wears a head covering in accordance with her religious beliefs that prevents you from seeing her face. That presents a challenge: As much as you want to respect her religious beliefs, how do you verify her identity if you cannot compare her ID photo to her face?

What You Said

More than 130 members of our Notary community weighed in on this issue, with many offering practical and thoughtful responses. Several commenters noted that the signer was able to show her face to have her ID photo taken, and saw that as an opening to verify her identity.

“Being mindful and respectful of religious beliefs is paramount,” wrote Najah Tamargo. “I would offer to take her into a separate room to reveal her face, or (make) any other accommodation that she would require. If she still refused, I would have to politely explain the rules and why I would not be able to complete a notarial act without being able to properly identify her.”

Notary J.D. Walker said he would take a similar approach. However, he acknowledged that she may be reluctant to go into private with him because he is a man. “I’d refer her to a female Notary in that case. The need to identify a signer must be satisfied. If she can’t show me her face to compare with the ID, then I can't do the notarization.”

“In my state, (credible) identifying witnesses could be used for the identification, but they would need to be personally known to the Notary, which seems unlikely in this case,” noted David Gordon. “A notation as to the circumstances should also be made in the journal.”

Jolene Forzetting also suggested using two credible identifying witnesses to verify her identity, “as long as I was able to see their faces and verify their identities.”

I would ask for alternate ID and require a thumbprint for verification,” Notary Ima wrote.

If the signer were reluctant to show her face, Notary Sandra wrote that she “would ask for a second identification and compare the signatures on both. Plus, I would request an affidavit from a (credible identifying) witness verifying the client's identity.”

NNA Recommendations

Given our multi-cultural society, situations like this are becoming more common. This scenario is a reminder that Notaries should think through how to handle such circumstances before they happen.

Many of the solutions commenters suggested are good options. However, there are limits to what you can do. Most state Notary laws describe the methods you may use to identify signers, and you cannot deviate from what the law allows.

In the actual event, the Notary had the signer swear an oath that she was the person described on the ID. Unfortunately, this is not an acceptable method of verifying the signer’s identity. The same is true of requesting a thumbprint. No state authorizes you to use a thumbprint to verify identity.

In the scenario, because the signer has a state-issued ID, you can ask what accommodations were made by the agency that took her ID photo. If you can reasonably make similar accommodations, ask if that would allow her to show you her face.

If you are a male Notary, and that is an issue for her, recommend a female Notary, as several commenters suggested.

If these options won’t work, using one or more credible identifying witnesses might — depending on the state. But make sure to follow the requirements of your state. In California and Florida, for example, identifying witnesses must swear that the signer does not have an acceptable ID. Since the Notary in this case viewed the woman’s ID, credible witnesses likely would have difficulty swearing or affirming that the woman didn’t have an acceptable ID.

If none of these options works for your signer, you’d have to refuse to perform the notarization.

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


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Add your comment

Marty Sierra Jr

22 May 2017

I would get ahold of NNA before i proceed for advise.


22 May 2017

If she refused to show her face I would refuse to notarize. I would explain why etc. On the side note it is outrageous how this particular group of people require song and dance to accommodate their customs while refusing to adjust to American values.

John Axt

22 May 2017

As the NNA has shown, photographs are not a real reliable way to identify anyone. Since this is such an unreliable method, I would rely more on comparing signatures than I would a visual identification. I'm also glad that the NNA recognized that credible witnesses may not be used in certain states due to limitations in the law. Many Florida notaries believe that they can use credible witnesses anytime. This is not the case as the NNA has pointed out.

Catherine Roland

22 May 2017

In my geographical location, we have a large population of Amish. They do not believe in having photos taken of themselves therefore they have no form of photo ID. Lending institutions have only required a Social Security Card, but how does this really effect my notarizations?

National Notary Association

23 May 2017

Hello, Catherine. It depends on your state's ID requirements for notarizations. What state are you commissioned in?


22 May 2017

I would plain refuse if she refused to reveal the face. I would explain and refer her to another notary. On the side note it is outrageous how this particular group requires song and dance from everyone in order to accommodate their weird customs while plain refusing to adjust to American values and culture. March against sharia and for progress on June 10, 2017 everyone. It's on FB

Lynnette Iverson

22 May 2017

I'm not sure this actually makes sense. If the customer has an ID, did she not have to remove her head/face wrap for the photo to be taken at the DMV in the first place? If so, I don't see why she wouldn't understand that she also needs to remove it to show the photo is her - she would have to for the police as well. In any circumstance where ID must be confirmed,isn't it true the customer would know this?

Michael E Harris

22 May 2017

All the answers that I read are wrong. When people of other cultures want to live in this country, they should be the ones to conform to OUR culture. In the example case, if the woman's ID showed her with her head uncovered, that is the way would require her to present herself to me. Even if the notary wants to bow to another culture, that notary must know what is culture and what is religion. The covered face is not religious. I would offer the woman two choices. The fist is that she abide by our rules for notarization; the second is that she find another notary.

Lynann West

25 May 2017

As far as the face covering, she must uncover her face for washing correct? If she has need for a Dentist, she has to uncover her face, therefore as sensitive and serious as a notarization is, she should accommodate the Notary personnel and uncover her face for such. This is our culture and GOD/Allah will understand.

Richard Gorton

01 Jan 2018

This is a huge issue, especially here in Oregon where a female having her photo ID taken at DMV with the hijab covering in place - just complicates the ID.


01 Jan 2018

I would CYA heavily in such an instance to prevent successful lawsuit for religious discrimination, etc. For example, meet in a public place and record myself giving her various options and alternatives for getting the job done. But I would NEVER notarize her document if she refuses to show me her face. I am not attracted to such traits anyhow so I don't see the big idea.

Jesse Bull

02 Jan 2018

Positive identification is required, if the customer is unwilling to show accepted positive identification, I'm unwilling to show my Notary stamp. She/he can look elsewhere for notarization.


02 Jan 2018

I agree with the majority who object to bowing to customs contrary to ours. I would look out for obvious names that might indicate a potential problem and on my call to the customer I would remind them of the need for ID and try to establish if this would be a problem before I drove out to meet with them.


02 Jan 2018

I would refuse to perform the notarization if the signer would not remove the veil. How is this different from someone refusing to remove a scarf or a hat? It isn't. We CAN refuse to perform this service. I have done so, even if my attorney tells me that it is ok. If I don't feel comfortable, I simply tell them to find somebody else. I was engaged to perform a Loan Modification where the parents of the owner of a house were not all available to sign the paperwork. They offered a POA, but it was not notarized. They told me that they didn't think it didn't to be notarized. The vendor tried twice to get this done. One party could not find a set of two weeks to be available to sign this paperwork. The owner told me that he had not paid his mortgage for 2 years. TMI, and None of my business. Gee whiz! I didn't want to be involved in what I saw was outright mortgage theft from the borrower. THIS is why the case of the Baker who refused too design and bake the cake--the one recently heard at the Supreme Court is very important. If we are compelled to offer the services that we swear to practice, our country is no better than a Banana Republic.


05 Jan 2018

I also agree with the comments. If this is what OUR laws require, then you either comply or or the transaction cannot be completed

Theresa Robertson

05 Jan 2018

As a female notary, I would offer to look at her unveiled face in private. However, if she were unwilling, I would not notarize her documents. This is for no other reason than I must follow the rules and regulations of my state.


15 Mar 2018

@Maria can you keep your racist views to yourself and stay on topic? Unreal. VERY offended by your input and I'm as American as Apple pie. Please, check yourself.

Iris Jeanette Chatman

01 Mar 2021

Actually, they are brining up the topic on an ID that the photo has been taken already with the mask. How do you rectify that matter? You can't remove the mask from the photo. So what to do if someone came to you and the photo ID she presented has a photo with her mask on? I still don't know the correct response to this question???!!! Its not about the person having a face covering in front of you....its about a photo ID that has a face covering. THIS IS NOT ABOUT RACE PEOPLE!!!!!


05 Mar 2021

CA notaries can have her bring two credible identifying witnesses as ID instead of the Driver license with the masked photo. Then the notary follows the procedure for oaths of the witnesses to make the journal entry. The ID appears to be invalid for notarization.

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