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Notary Bulletin

Duping Notaries: The Tricks Fraudsters Use

fraudster-and-notary-resize.jpgIt isn’t always easy for Notaries to spot someone trying to commit fraud — whether it’s mortgage fraud, deed fraud or simply elder financial abuse. Because these frauds involve high-dollar value transactions, they typically require a notarization, so scammers need to get a forged signature past the Notary.

For the fraudster, the goal is simple: to get you to skip the requirement to have the signer personally appear before you or accept the ID of an impostor.

To do this, fraudsters rely on a variety of tricks. Below we describe 5 common strategies so that you’ll be prepared to recognize them when they occur. 

Trick 1: The fraudster could ask you to hurry

If your signer says, “I can’t wait; I have 5 minutes to do this,” the hope is that you will be distracted and cut corners while performing the notarization, perhaps forgetting to obtain proper identification or a signature in your journal.

Trick 2: The fraudster could ask you for a favor

Tragically, the favor often comes from someone you know. One Notary was asked by an employee to notarize her parents’ signatures on a deed conveying their home to the employee even though the parents weren’t present. The employee had forged the signatures and then obtained a loan against the property without her parents knowing it.

Trick 3: The fraudster could use charm

With this strategy, the scammer engages you in pleasant conversation to get you to drop your guard. The intent is to distract you so you won’t look carefully at a bogus ID or question a story that doesn’t quite add up.

Trick 4: The fraudster could plead with you for sympathy

One woman met a Notary at the front door and told a sob story about her husband wanting to sign loan documents but had just undergone wrist surgery and the cast on his wrist prevented him from signing like he normally did. The man was an impostor sitting in for the real husband. The Notary bought into the lie, didn’t check the man’s ID thoroughly, and his insurance policy suffered a total loss.

Trick 5: The fraudster is a respectable person in authority

A recent grand jury report out of New York City noted that Notaries were sometimes duped by “someone regarded as a respectable member of the community, such as an attorney or a police officer.” It’s hard to say no when the signer is a first responder, military servicemember or other influential individual. 

A Notary’s Defense

These tricks may seem simple, but the fact is they work. You must be on your guard because you never know if the signer engaging you in friendly chitchat is just a friendly person or is trying to steal someone’s home.

Your best defense is to follow every step of a proper notarization every time. If someone tries to rush you, does things to distract you or tries to get you to skip a crucial step, slow down and make sure you do everything the right way. And don’t finish the notarization until you double-check everything.

If someone seems reluctant or in too much of a hurry, let them know they can come back when they have more time. And remind them that you can’t give them any special favors, no matter who they are or what their story is.

If you do this, you could save both yourself and a potential victim a world of trouble.

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

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Add your comment

Elaine Dodson

04 Feb 2019

Thank you for these tips. I rarely use mine but have had a someone ask me to notarize husbands signature while he was in jainnin another state. Of course I said. Of course I said sorry I cannot do this.

John Cole

04 Feb 2019

Great article. Every notary needs to be aware of these tricks-and always be on guard for the bad actors and their bad deeds.

Laura Morland

04 Feb 2019

This is a very useful article! Please fix what I assume is an editing error: "but had just underwent wrist surgery" should be "but had just UNDERGONE wrist surgery."


04 Feb 2019

My jaws dropped, I couldn't believe what I was reading. Thanks for the guidelines.

Michelle Riley

11 Feb 2019

Great article! I love the scenarios you used. I will share this information in my classes for new notaries.


13 Mar 2019

Funny how common sense is not common at all. Thank you for the teaching article.

Renea Paige McKinney

14 Mar 2019

I really appreciate the frequency of notary information and quizzes from time to time. This is very helpful. Please keep them coming. Thank you!


18 Mar 2019

I received a settlement offer release agreement in the mail by my attorney request i must sign in the presence of a notary public my attorney did not appear in fact i did not sign.

Harold J. Blakely, Notary Public

04 Apr 2019

Thank you i read notaries bulletin March 30, 2019 article Duping Notaries: The Trick Fraudsters Use-Trick 5: The fraudster is a respectable person in authority.

Marie kalfayan

14 Apr 2019

It happened to me once, somebody I know asked me to notarize his wife’s signature, wife was not present. I said no, he never talked to me again.


22 Apr 2019

Laura Morland...although this article was written and published by the NNA, it was not the NNA that used the word "underwent". Please, for the love of Jesus, quit being the grammer police....quick! Where's my typo?

Cheryl A Wallace

28 Nov 2019

Great article, thanks for posting!

26 Dec 2019

We do 90% Offsite Automotive signings and you cannot take shortcuts at the signing. In person ID verification is key. If they aren't physically present the signing STOPS. It could and will cost dealerships and lenders millions of dollars in losses, simply for not hiring a signing agent and properly verifying the identity of a signer. More and more dealerships require our services and Identity theft is the number one reason. Thank you NNA for your insight to these critical steps of identifying a fraudulent signer. Trust No-one!

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