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3 Risky Questions Signers Ask Notaries — And How To Answer Them

notary-refuse-resized.jpgThe duties Notaries perform are strictly regulated by state law. Going beyond what you’re allowed to do can get you in serious legal and financial hot water with the authorities — and that includes answering certain kinds of questions from signers. Below are three examples of risky questions signers may ask you, why these questions are potentially dangerous, and how the NNA’s Hotline Consultants recommend that you respond.

Risky Question 1: “Can’t You Just Bend The Rules To Help Me Out?”
 

When signers need notarizations, it’s often urgent. If signers have a problem getting to you, or there’s an issue with their ID, they often ask you to ignore proper procedure or bend the rules, including variations such as:

  • “I forgot my ID. Can’t you just notarize my signature without it?”
  • “My kid is sick, and I can’t make it to your office. Can’t I just send the document for you to stamp and pick it up later?”
  • “This is an important client. I know the law says you need to ask for his driver’s license, but I don’t want to embarrass him, so would you just notarize without it?”

The Risk: Failing to follow the rules is an invitation to lose your Notary commission. If you don’t require a signer to personally appear for the notarization, ignore the requirements for satisfactory evidence of identity, or agree to any improper Notary requests, you are breaking the law and opening the document to potential fraud. If a dishonest signer can commit fraud thanks to your negligence, you not only risk your commission, but you could be held liable for any damages a victim suffers as a result.

The Recommended Response: If someone asks you to bend or break the rules or ignore proper procedure when notarizing, there’s only one answer: No. If the signer won’t accept that, don’t proceed with the notarization. It’s better to have an unhappy signer than being sued for negligence or losing your commission.

Risky Question 2: “Can You Help Me Prepare This Document?”

Signers often need important legal or business documents notarized but aren’t sure how to complete them, so they may turn to you for help:

  • “Help me out. Can you tell me what information I need to fill in here?”
  • “Can you prepare a power of attorney document for me?”
  • “What kind of notarization do I need for this type of document?”

The Risk: Notaries who are not attorneys are prohibited from giving legal advice that they aren’t qualified to provide. This is referred to as the unauthorized practice of law. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned Notaries don’t realize that answering questions about a document, preparing a document or simply choosing the type of notarization constitute a violation if the Notary is not a qualified attorney, and can result in civil or criminal liability.

The Recommended Response: If you are asked to help prepare or complete document, or choose the type of notarization needed, and you are not an attorney, you should decline and explain that you are not allowed to provide legal advice. If you are asked to choose a notarization for them, you may describe the different types of notarizations available and let the signer decide, or they can contact the document-issuing or receiving agency for instructions.

Risky Question 3: “Can You Accept A Copy Or Picture Of My ID?”

While every state’s rules are different when it comes to identifying signers, all without exception agree that a signer must present an original ID to the Notary. You should be careful if a signer asks you one the following questions:

  • “I’ve got a photocopy of my driver’s license. Can you accept that instead?”
  • “I don’t have my ID with me, but here’s a picture of it on my mobile phone, OK?”

The Risk: It’s never a good idea to accept a photocopy or image in lieu of an actual ID. Without having the original ID, you have no way of knowing if the copy or image has been altered or changed. Also a copy lacks the security features, such as holograms or raised text, that you can use to help verify an ID is genuine — increasing the chance that a dishonest signer can get away with fraud without you realizing it.

The Recommended Response: Don’t accept a photocopy or photo in place of an actual identification card. If the signer doesn’t have an ID, don’t proceed with the notarization but invite the signer to return with their ID in hand.

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

22 Comments

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Linda B. Wells

15 Feb 2019

I have a seal & the date has expired in the seal but I have renewed my notary license. Can i draw a line thru the date or do i have to order another seal...

National Notary Association

15 Feb 2019

Hello Linda. To help us answer your question, can you please tell us what state you are commissioned in?

Jorge Galicia

18 Feb 2019

This is more of a quesntion than a comment, states that if a signer asks us to help them prepare certain documents we are not allowed to help them but what about If a notary is also a documents preparer? Is this person allowed to prepare the documents and notarize it or the preparer/notary have to get another person to notarize? Im in California.

National Notary Association

20 Feb 2019

Hello. A California Notary who has a direct financial or beneficial interest in a transaction is not permitted to perform any notarial act in connection with such transaction. However, a California Notary is not considered to have a direct financial or beneficial interest in the transaction if the Notary is acting in the capacity of an agent, employee, insurer, attorney, escrow, or lender for a person (GC 8224).

Lindsay

18 Feb 2019

"If you are asked to choose a notarization for them, you may describe the different types of notarizations available and let the signer decide, or they can contact the document-issuing or receiving agency for instructions." My question: Am I, the notary, allowed to contact the document-issuing/receiving agency and receive instructions directly? Or, should only the signer do that? Located in GA.

National Notary Association

20 Feb 2019

Hello. It is the signer's responsibility to contact the agency in order to determine what notarization is needed.

Lorraine Bornio

18 Feb 2019

Your response to Question 2 should include and exception statement for Louisiana Notaries. Thanks

Linda Seger

18 Feb 2019

#2 needs to be amended to read "Notaries who are not attorneys or otherwise authorized by their state are prohibited from preparing documents or giving legal information that they aren’t qualified to provide." As in some states non-attorneys CAN prepare legal documents and even answer such questions.

Irene Varvaris

18 Feb 2019

I am opening my own company and going to be the only notary there. Can I notarize lein waivers for payments?

National Notary Association

20 Feb 2019

Hello. So we can answer your question, can you please tell us what state you are commissioned in?

Lewis l Thomas

19 Feb 2019

Great advice I invite all of you to take the test it's a series of five questions you should knowI hope you all do well on the test I got all five questions right just testing your skills and knowledge

Carolyn Allen

10 Mar 2019

Can a Notary help the signer by printing their name and address on a power of attorney form? The signer’s handwriting is not legible due to illness. New Jersey. Thank you.

National Notary Association

11 Mar 2019

Hello. No, in Opinion No. 41, Notaries Public and the Unauthorized Practice of Law, the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court, concluded: “Specifically, the Committee deems it to be an unauthorized practice of law for any notary public of the State of New Jersey to render assistance by giving advice or by preparing, reviewing, analyzing, or completing any forms, writings, pleadings, or other documents in person, in writing, electronically or otherwise” (Opinion 41 of the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law, 178 N.J.L.J. 444 and 13 N.J.L. 2273, November 1, 2004).

Elsa Bernal

13 Mar 2019

my husband and I run own company and I’m the only notary there. Can I notarize lein waivers for payments? / Oklahoma

National Notary Association

15 Mar 2019

Hello. Oklahoma law prohibits a Notary from notarizing his or her own signature (49 OS 6[A]). If your business is a cooperative, a Notary who is an officer, trustee, member or shareholder of a cooperative may take acknowledgment of documents executed in favor of that cooperative or to which it is a party (18 OS 438.28). “The law does not forbid notaries from notarizing the signatures of relatives. However, if the notarized document was ever the subject of a court suit, a judge might determine the notary was not an impartial witness” (OK Secretary of State's website, “Notary FAQs”).

betty

14 Mar 2019

Just be aware that people that ask for these things WILL get angry with you for not breaking the law or your oath. I am asked to ask for copies of ID's. I always ask for their originals to check them against the copy. The copies are always helpful to double check your entries on The Patriot Act form, and ID form and your journal entries.

Serenia Jackson

19 Mar 2019

Question: If the signer presents an expired Driver’s License for identification, can the Notary (NY) perform the notariation?

National Notary Association

20 Mar 2019

Hello. New York does not provide guidelines regarding whether or not a Notary may accept an expired ID. “An acknowledgment must not be taken by any officer unless he knows or has satisfactory evidence, that the person making it is the person described in and who executed such instrument” (RPL 303).

Monica Haverkamp

15 May 2019

I previously worked at a large corporation with people I have worked with for several years. I would tell everyone that yes I know who you are, I know your idenity was checked when you came to work here, however, the state of Texas wants me to check your ID one more time. They usually understood that and did not ask me to break the rules.

Ellis C Collom

17 May 2019

I would like to see more coverage about other states. It seems that California is the most mentioned. I am new and waiting my commission from Tennessee.

K smith

25 Jul 2019

What should I do if someone texts me to have my secretary commit notary fraud. They asked and emailed me the document. Told them I would not. Should I turn them in? In state of PA.

National Notary Association

26 Jul 2019

Hello. It is your choice whether or not to report suspected misconduct by an individual to the authorities.

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