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Notary tip: When the signer doesn’t look like their ID

Updated 4-8-24. Imagine you are sitting across from a signer with shocking pink hair. The person seated across from you looks nothing like the photo of the middle- aged, silver haired woman on her ID. Just a style change? Or is it fraud?

Or, what about an individual who has just undergone significant weight loss surgery, or whose facial hair does not match their image?

The most important duty of a Notary is to verify the identity of the signer. The fact that your signer does not resemble their ID photo certainly raises a red flag, but it doesn’t automatically mean that the signer is an imposter.

While a visual match between the ID photo and the person present is preferable, the challenge arises when the match is not obvious. A lack of absolute visual match is not necessarily a reason to reject the ID. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when faced with this challenge:

Don't rely solely on variable physical traits

A person’s appearance changes over time, and sometimes frequently. Features such as hair style or color, weight, facial hair, and whether a person wears contacts or eyeglasses are all subject to change. In states with varying driver’s license terms and renewal policies, the ID photo may be 10, 15 or 20+ years old.

For instance, Arizona only requires a new photo every 12 years, one of the longest terms in the nation. Even when someone renews their driver’s license, many states do not require them to get a new photo.

So when examining the ID, consider the following:

  • Look at the birthdate to see if the signer appears to be the appropriate age.
  • Look at fixed traits such as ear shape and placement, jaw or chin shape, eye shape, or distance between facial features.
  • Look at the person’s general physical description (height, weight, color of eyes or hair, etc.).

If a single element is different but the other information on the ID (signature, height, etc.) is reasonably accurate, take that into account when deciding whether to accept the ID.

Look beyond physical evidence of identity

As part of your process, ask the signer basic questions about the information on the ID.

  • What is their zip code?
  • What is their birthdate or astrological sign?
  • What is the number of their street address?

You should also observe their behavior. Are they trying to rush you or spontaneously provide justification as to why their signature or appearance doesn’t match?

Ask for another ID

If concerned, you can ask the signer for additional ID. Several states’ laws, including Pennsylvania, allow a Notary to do this. What is acceptable as a second form of ID will vary from state to state, so be sure to know your state’s requirements. For instance, California has a very specific list of acceptable forms of identification. It should also be noted that in California a Notary cannot “mix and match” IDs, using the photo from one ID and the physical description from another. A single ID must meet all requirements.

However, some states, such as Texas, do not allow the use of secondary IDs. Any ID used in Texas must be a current identification card or other document issued by the federal government or any state government that contains the photograph and signature of the acknowledging person. Texas Notaries may accept a current foreign passport as proof of signer identity only when performing a notarization for a deed or other instrument relating to a residential real estate transaction.

Some states allow for the use of credible identifying witnesses. However, in states such as California and Florida credible witnesses aren’t an option when a person’s ID doesn’t check out because the witness must swear that the signer does not have an ID listed in statute.

Ultimately, you are expected to make a reasonable judgment. If in your review of a signer’s ID you reasonably conclude that the signer is not an imposter, then you can proceed with the notarization. However, if you are not convinced the signer is who they say they are, you can and should refuse to go forward.

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2024 ID Checking Guide Ad

Related Articles:

Notary basics: How to deal with unreliable or suspicious ID

A Notary's guide to spotting fake IDs

Additional Resources:

NNA Hotline

View All: Best Practices


Add your comment


10 Sep 2018

MATCH PICTURE AND SIGNATURE AS PER ID. nys ID in my case. maybe passport as international document. and suggest them to get state ID if they do not have one.

Anjeenie Edwards

10 Sep 2018

Very interesting

Karin L Shulman

10 Dec 2018

I would ask to see a high school I.D. All high school issue ID's to their students for various reasons. If he couldn't provide a high school I.D. then I would not notarize for him.

Lupe Shanklin

21 Oct 2019

i would ask for another government ID

Kathleen Jackson

21 Oct 2019

I would not do the notarization unless the signer had a passport or other current valid id with a signature.

judith peterson

11 Nov 2019

Usually there is some identifying characteristic and/or information to rely on and also the demeanor of the signer...I would request an additional form of ID, and if the document is to be recorded or is a power of attorney, a signature and thumb print in my journal (not currently required in my state). Finally, if I couldn't make any connection, would have to decline. Fortunately in my 25 years of service, I have not found it necessary to make the final call.

Stephen E Swetz

02 Nov 2020

I conduct loan closings for a living, not so much GNW. I once had a signer present me me a county employee ID from a county she worked for in NJ, that was 12 years expired. (I am in FL) She had no other form of ID, and she was refinancing a home. Apparently no one anywhere in the scope of her refinance, ie lender/title company, bothered to ever ask her for an ID. I declined to close the loan, and I informed the Title Co. They did not seem bothered by it, but then I was not ever compensated for my time/travel or printing of the documents. I do not accept work from that particular Title Co any longer, but you live and learn. I am not risking my livelihood for potential fraud, as that is what I think it was...

Bishal Barma

05 Jun 2021

I truly appreciate this blog. Really looking forward to reading more. Want more.

Susan L. Cool

03 Oct 2021

There is an increase number of transgender signers who need a notarized application to update their birth certificate. This is needed to get a new driver's license or passport.Their current "look" may be quite different than the picture on their ID. Please be respectful during these appointments, it is important to convey poaitive acceptance. The last thing anyone needs is an awkward situation.


26 Sep 2022

I thought in the state of Florida a person could have 2 witnesses attest to their identity in the case that they don’t have ID?

National Notary Association

26 Sep 2022

Hello. In Florida, a signer may be identified by the sworn written statement of one credible witness personally known to the Notary Public or the sworn written statement of two credible witnesses whose identities are proven to the Notary Public if the signer lacks other forms of satisfactory ID (FS 117.05[5]).


22 Apr 2024

This has happened to me when a gentleman came dressed in the gender he identify as. This was a sticky situation because he wanted me to notarize the document in his assumed gender not his natural gender.

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