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Quiz: Spotting Notary Misconduct

Notaries must follow strict ethical standards state Notary laws when performing their duties. But can you spot an improper or illegal request when you see it? See how well you can recognize and avoid Notary misconduct in this quiz.


1. An old friend asks you to notarize his wife’s signature on bank documents. “She would be here if she could, but she’s stuck in traffic and we need to mail this ASAP,” he says. “Can you help?”

A. No. Notarizing the wife’s signature without her present could get me in serious trouble.

B. Yes. It’s OK because I’ve known this neighbor for years and trust him.

ANSWER: A. You should never notarize an absent person’s signature as a favor to anyone — even someone you’ve known a long time. Every state requires a signer to personally appear before the Notary in order to properly identify the signer. Failing to do so is a serious example of misconduct that could lead to losing your commission, being sued, or even jail time if fraud is involved. More than one Notary has learned too late that a friend, coworker or neighbor who asked for an absent person’s signature to be notarized as a “favor” was actually committing fraud against the signer.

2. A mother needs her signature notarized on her son’s school application. There’s no certificate wording on the document. The mother asks, “Can you just pick the one you need and notarize my signature with it?”

A. Yes. It’s OK to choose the certificate that is required for the notarization.

B. No. It would be inappropriate to choose the certificate for the notarization.

ANSWER: B. If a signer is not sure of the type of certificate required for a notarial act, you may describe each type of notarial act — for example the difference between an acknowledgment and a jurat — as long as the signer is the one who chooses the certificate. A Notary may never select the type of certificate to complete for a notarial act because that would be the unauthorized practice of law

3. Your boss tells you an important client is coming to your office to have his signature notarized. “Don’t ask him for ID, because we don’t want to inconvenience him,” your boss says. “I know him, so you don’t have to worry.”

A. Since your boss is telling you to do it, you skip the normal ID requirement.

B. You need to insist on asking the signer for ID. Even if your boss doesn’t like it, it’s the law.

ANSWER: B. If a signer — including a boss, coworker or other Notary —asks you to break the law when you notarize, you should always refuse. If you are asked to perform a notarization that requires you to identify the signer according to your state’s laws, you must always do so — no exceptions. A boss who asks you to break the law simply because it may inconvenience an important client must be told politely but firmly that you must identify the client.

4.  A coworker stops by your desk. “Hey, I have an emergency,” she says. “I just realized that I needed to have my signatures on those papers I signed yesterday notarized. I know you’re busy, so can I just borrow your seal to stamp and notarize them with yesterday’s date? It won’t take long.”

A. That’s OK, as long as the seal stays in the office.

B. No, I can’t let you do that. No one else can use my Notary seal.

ANSWER: B. Accepting the coworker’s request could get you into serious trouble for multiple kinds of misconduct. First, a Notary’s seal is the sole property of the Notary; you may never allow your seal to be used by anyone else. Allowing another person to use your seal is an open invitation to fraud. Second, a certificate of a notarial act must contain the date the act is performed. No other date may be substituted. If you allowed the coworker to use your seal and enter a false date in the certificate of notarial act, you would be guilty of two misconduct violations. The only answer a Notary should make to this request is a definite “No!”

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



Add your comment


16 Nov 2018

The most recent handbook issued in my state indicates a credible witness is SUPERIOR to an identification card, so the boss's word about the identity of the visitor is acceptable.

National Notary Association

16 Nov 2018

Hello. Just a few points to clarify: 1. In this scenario, the boss is not offering to act as a credible witness. He is instructing the Notary not to ask for any form of ID in order to avoid inconveniencing the client. 2. Even if the boss did offer to act as a credible identifying witness, he could still be disqualified from doing so in some states if he has an interest or financial benefit from the transaction. For example, California and Florida do not allow people to serve as credible witnesses if they are parties in the transaction or receive a financial benefit from the transaction.

David Moore

26 Nov 2018

If the signer is present, regardless of who tell you otherwise, ask for his ID. Client or no client.

Ahmed Elhillali

26 Nov 2018

Thank you' These and other directives are valuable to me.

Marylou Stewart

26 Nov 2018

In Texas, a Notary has to have their certificate notarized, but there is no space on the form for even a small seal.

beville d randall

28 Nov 2018


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