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Notary Tip: When The Signer Doesn’t Match Their ID

Notary Tip: When the Signer Doesn’t Match Their ID

Updated 11-4-19. 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. Midlife crisis? Or is it fraud?

Or, what about an individual who has just undergone significant weight loss surgery, grown a full beard that obscures his face or removed that beard?

The most important duty of a Notary is to verify the identity of the signer. And the fact that your signer does not resemble their ID photo certainly raises a red flag. But it doesn’t 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 another 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 the 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.

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.

Additional Resources:

NNA Hotline



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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.

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