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A Guide To Common Penalties For Notary Misconduct

family-court-resized.jpgUpdated 11-1-19. The biggest mistake a Notary can make is thinking, “Notarization isn’t a big deal.” Notarization is a big deal. It protects signers from document fraud and ensures the integrity of business and legal transactions. Willfully breaking the law — or even making an unintentional mistake — can lead to serious financial and legal penalties for you.

Here’s a look at some possible consequences of Notary misconduct in different states.

1. Notary Commission Suspended Or Revoked

A common punishment for Notary misconduct is taking away the Notary’s commission, either temporarily or permanently. In Texas, the Secretary of State may suspend or revoke a commission if a Notary fails to require a signer’s personal appearance at the time the notarization is performed or for 28 other violations that constitute “good cause” (GC 406.009[a] and [d][5]; 1 TAC 87.31). Arizona officials may take away a Notary’s commission for failing to administer an oath or affirmation during a jurat (ARS 41-330.A.9); notarizing a signature without certificate wording (ARS 41-330.A.12); overcharging fees (ARS 41-330.A.6); using false or misleading advertising (ARS 41-330.A.5) or for 8 other offenses. Nevada officials may revoke or suspend the commission of any Notary who is found to have willfully violated or neglected his or her duties (NRS 240.150.4).

States that have adopted the Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts (RULONA), such as Colorado, Pennsylvania and Washington, can revoke or suspend a Notary’s commission on a variety of grounds, including the following:

  • The Notary fails to comply with the provisions of the law
  • The Notary makes a fraudulent statement or omission on their commission application
  • The Notary is convicted of a felony or a crime involving fraud, dishonesty or deceit
  • The Notary fails to discharge his or her duties
  • The Notary fails to maintain a mandatory surety bond (or “assurance”) if a surety bond is required by statute (in Colorado it is optional).

2. Criminal Penalties

Under some state laws, certain violations in performing a notarization can lead to a Notary being found guilty of a misdemeanor or even a felony in serious cases. Some states issue criminal penalties for specific acts. For example, in North Carolina Notaries are considered guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor if they take an acknowledgment or administer an oath or affirmation without personal knowledge or satisfactory evidence of the principal’s identity (GS 10B-60[c]). In Hawaii, knowingly notarizing a signature on a document and failing to properly identify a document signer through personal knowledge or satisfactory proof of identity, or knowingly failing to include required information on a certificate statement are misdemeanors (HRS 456-21). Conviction for these offenses also results in automatic revocation of the Notary’s commission (HRS 456-20[b] and [c]). In Georgia, a Notary who knowingly executes a notarial certificate containing a statement the Notary knows to be false — or who performs an act with the intent to deceive or defraud — is guilty of a misdemeanor (OCGA 45-17-8[d] and 45-17-20). 

3. Civil Penalties

Some types of misconduct may require the Notary to pay a fine or other civil penalty. For example, in Massachusetts, a person who acts as a Notary after their commission expires can be fined $100-$500 (GL 222 Sec. 9). In Virginia, a nonattorney Notary who assumes, uses or advertises the title “notario,” “notario publico” or “licenciado,” or any other term in a language other than English that indicates they are authorized to practice law is subject to a maximum civil penalty of $500 for the first offense and a maximum $1,000 for a second or subsequent violation (COV 47.1-15.1). 

4. Lawsuits And Financial Liability

Even if a state does not fine a Notary or levy other punishments for misconduct, a Notary can still be sued by a signer in civil court if the Notary’s actions were responsible for financial losses — whether the Notary made the mistake intentionally or not. In one case, a Notary was sued for $250,000 after it was discovered the signer was an impostor and the Notary failed to record the signer’s thumbprint in the Notary’s journal entry. In another case, a Notary was sued for failing to follow proper procedure when relying on a credible witness to identify a signer.

A Notary isn’t the only one who can be held liable for misconduct. Employers and bosses can be held liable as well if they ask Notaries who work for them to violate proper procedure. Under Florida law, a Notary’s employer can be held liable for damages proximately caused by an Notary employee’s misconduct if the notarization was performed as part of the employee’s job duties (FS 117.05[6]).  And even if a Notary is not found liable, paying for court costs and legal representation can be extremely costly. Illinois has a substantively similar provision (5 ICLS 312/7-102).

How To Avoid The Consequences Of Notary Misconduct

The best way to avoid penalties from Notary misconduct is to steer clear of any improper actions or ethically questionable behavior when notarizing. The following steps will help you avoid some of the most egregious examples of misconduct:

  • Know the law in your state and the violations that can be penalized. If you don’t know the law, learn it.
  • Always follow your state’s laws regarding signer personal appearance and identification.
  • Never falsify information in a notarial certificate and make sure all required information is included.
  • Never let anyone else have access to your Notary seal or journal, and keep your seal and journal in a locked, secure area under your control when not in use.
  • Make sure you use a Notary journal and record a complete entry for every notarization you perform.
  • Never give a signer improper legal advice about a document or choose the type of notarization for a signer.

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

18 Comments

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sirageldin a osman

12 Nov 2018

Nice

Kathy Frank

02 Oct 2019

I am a notary. I was informed of a UPS Store at 326 E. 65th Street, New York 10065 of unbelievable charges for documents. I have a photo of the charges that were posted. I phoned this store and was told that these were fair and lawful charges and did inform them that these were definitely not. These are so unfortunate that I felt that I had to report them. A friend took this picture. She then knew I was a notary and took these to me. My Notary Number is 31-o1-FR4844316 Commission Expires April 30, 2013. I don't have a copy I can attach of these charges. If you will tell me where to send the photo I will be happy to send it in. Example: UPS Staff Witness: $10.00 each witness. Deed: $30.00 along with other notarial fees, etc.

National Notary Association

02 Oct 2019

Hello. Please follow the instructions at this link to submit a complaint to the NY Division of Licensing Services: https://www.dos.ny.gov/licensing/complaint.html

lavenia higdon

26 Oct 2019

I have questions on a estate that I believe has been handled wrongly. I believe that forgery has occurred on my husband's inheritance. I want to obtain all documents signed and registered threw the county clerk's office. How can I get all documents to look over and be sure the estate has been fine correctly

National Notary Association

28 Oct 2019

Hello. You would need to contact the county clerk's office directly to ask how you can obtain the documents you wish to examine.

Jeremiah McDaniel

13 Dec 2019

I need to report a notary for falsifying documents . I’m thinking about seeing and want his Notary privileges taken away . Who do I speak to to report his crime .

National Notary Association

13 Dec 2019

To help us answer your question, can you please tell us what state you are located in?

Audrey Sehlmeyer

03 Jan 2020

What is the validity of a document if it was notarized by a non-notary using the actual notarys stamp in their absence.

National Notary Association

07 Jan 2020

Hello. A Notary stamp cannot be used by anyone except the commissioned Notary.

Kristy broussard

12 Jan 2020

Okay is it illegal paperwork to be before a notary or it does it have to be signed in front of the notary for it to be legal .... Im asking bc i signed provisional custody by mandate form for medical purposes only for 6 months to my God mother but it wasn't in front of a notary ... And my God mother had two witnesses signed and said that she will get it notarized by a notary ... Now i know that in fact that im supposed to have a copy of the form as well as her and the notary .. my God mother refuses to give me a copy ... Im from lousiana ... And i need to know what can i do about it

National Notary Association

13 Jan 2020

Hello. We're sorry, but any questions about the legality of a medical custody document would need to be answered by a qualified attorney.

Sherry Sigmon

17 Jan 2020

What if a notary uses a different spelling of their name like Gale instead of Gail. I'm in NC.

National Notary Association

22 Jan 2020

Hello. A Notary should always sign and write their name exactly as it appears on their Notary commission.

Jane

18 Jan 2020

I recently had a Failure to Appear for a class a Misdemeanor for a traffic ticket in Whiteville, NC. Will this cause me to not be able to keep my Notary License?

National Notary Association

22 Jan 2020

Hello. North Carolina rules for disqualification are as follows: "The Secretary of State may deny an application for commission or recommission based on (t)he applicant’s conviction or plea of admission or nolo contendere to a felony or any crime involving dishonesty or moral turpitude. In no case may a commission be issued to an applicant within 10 years after release from prison, probation, or parole, whichever is later” (GS 10B-5[d][2]). “A notary public may not hold public office if he or she: • Has been convicted of a felony under North Carolina or federal law. • Has been convicted of a felony in another state that is also considered a felony under North Carolina law. • Has been convicted of corruption or malpractice in any office. • Has been removed from any office by impeachment. “All of these constitutional disqualifications prevent anyone from holding the office of notary public if his or her citizenship rights have not been restored in the manner prescribed by law. However, individuals who have been incarcerated or placed on probation are able to submit an application for consideration provided that 10 years have passed since the applicant’s last day of prison, parole, or probation. G.S. 10B-5(d)(2)” (NC Notary Public Guide).

Joy

23 Jan 2020

A wrecker service notary notarized and forged my dads home deed and life insurance policy to her mother my dads sister without my dads being present and forged his signature to do it happened the day before he went into the hospital And my dads sisters daughter stole all his deeds and insurance policy and took my name off I’m his only daughter and no notary was present with him signing he informed me and he was on house bound and he wasn’t able to leave home , he didn’t sign nothing in front of his sisters notary they forged it while he was on hospice

Robert Beresford

02 Feb 2020

My question is regarding Florida Laws. I have three quit claim deeds that are forged. The Notary involved was asked about these documents and they stated they were fraud in May 2019. Their Commission expired in August 2019 and they stilk havent reported this theft to Tallahassee and a property hearing concerning one of the three document goes to court this week which is to quiet the title and both parties are the committing fraud as well as the Notary...How can this be dealt with because local law enforcement tells me the Notary is the 1st victim that has to report the misuse of her stamp but instead of notifying authorities the notary produce an affidavit stating one document was a fogery but ignoring the others that would also be discarded in my favor as only living relative. Instead two people are fighting over property they've stolen by fraud

National Notary Association

05 Feb 2020

Hello. We are sorry, but you will need to contact a qualified attorney for legal advice on how to proceed with any fraud issue in court.

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