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Feature

Safe spaces, dangerous places for meeting customers

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Updated 10-30-23.

Brian Keithley stands 6 feet, 7 inches tall, but he still doesn't take any chances with his safety. The former corrections officer and mobile Notary knows that size doesn't guarantee a Notary’s well-being. Keithley was once asked to visit a hospital to notarize documents related to the sale of an elderly mother’s home.

He suspected elder abuse when the mother appeared to have no idea what was happening. When he tried to leave the room, family members attempted to physically force him back. He had to call hospital security for help.

Mobile Notaries face a certain degree of risk that comes with the job — they must be available to respond to assignments at all hours of the day and night, and they must find a meeting place that’s convenient for the client regardless of the hour. This can be difficult, especially for Notaries who live in rural places without a well-lit, 24-hour restaurant or coffee shop nearby.

Notaries and safety experts agree you must never take your personal and professional safety for granted, no matter what size you are, the physical shape you’re in, or even if you have military or police training. However, there are ways to balance the need to be accommodating — in an industry where prompt responses to clients and willingness to travel at any time win the day — with an awareness that meeting strangers in strange locations carries inherent risk.

The National Notary Bulletin recently asked Notaries on Facebook to share what they consider to be safe meeting places and what they consider to be dangerous signing locations. Dozens of Notaries shared their insights into their safety practices and the limits they place on where and when they'll travel.

Notaries have to be smart

For many mobile Notaries, keeping in touch with someone you trust while on assignment is crucial to staying safe. Keithley has a safety plan in place where he’ll send a text to his wife with the location of the signing and the approximate time he’ll be gone, and if she doesn’t hear from him within 45 minutes of that time, she’ll call him. He has certain distress words he can use to alert her if he's in danger.

“I’m 6 foot 7 inches, an Army veteran, and trained in law enforcement, and I know I can still get in trouble,” Keithley said. “If someone wants to get stupid, they're not going to care (about my size). People don’t understand that just because you’re a guy, big doesn’t always defend you. You have to be smart.”

He once took a call at 1 a.m., but still insisted on finding a safe, well-lit location to conduct the notarization. He ended up meeting his client at the entrance to a Walmart, so there were people still coming in and out of the building, and security cameras were also in place.

Other safe places that Notaries on Facebook mentioned using include restaurants, such as Subway and Panera Bread, or coffee shops such as Starbucks which have multiple locations in most towns. Other safe meeting places suggested were police stations, churches, post offices, banks and a friend’s office.

Another Notary mentioned using a shopping mall atrium, though she noted this location also comes with a lack of privacy. Others echoed the difficulty of finding safe places that are also private. Keithley said he likes meeting at a local library if privacy is needed. He can reserve a room with glass windows and a door and it's free.

Suggested safe meeting spaces:

  • Coffee shops
  • Restaurants
  • Public libraries
Blue icon of two people shaking hands

Most of the Notaries responding to the Facebook survey mentioned signer’s homes as the most potentially dangerous places they visited, but they also listed dark spaces such as a park at night, or even the side of the road. One Notary performed a signing on the hood of a car at night with a flashlight — a risky situation, considering the chances of getting hit by a passing vehicle. Keithley won’t go to parks in the evening and has a habit of checking out a neighborhood prior to the signing to get a feel for things.

When going to an unfamiliar signer’s home, Notaries described different strategies for mitigating risk. One Notary said she won't go inside a home if she feels unsafe, so she'll conduct the notarization in the doorway. Others recommended taking note of people drinking alcohol and whether the signer appears rushed or irritable, mention they are expecting someone else to arrive, or are in the middle of other activities that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Notaries have to have heightened awareness

David Fowler, who founded a personal safety training company and who specializes in teaching safety to workers who travel to client’s homes, emphasized cultivating awareness as a Notary's best defense.

“Everything goes to awareness,” he said. “In an environment you’re not aware of, you have to have heightened awareness and be vigilant.”

Fowler’s training class, called AVADE (Awareness, Vigilance, Avoidance, Defense and Escape) teaches participants to use their powers of perception to spot risk and then take appropriate steps to handle the situation.

The safety process begins ahead of time, he said. When you park at the client’s home, park facing the same direction you came from. The route you used on the way there will be familiar, so if you need to make a hasty escape, you won’t get lost going a different way or have to backtrack to the signer’s home to get your bearings.

He also recommends telling the client right off the bat that you’re expecting a phone call — for example, you can tell the signer a relative may need to speak with you urgently — and if you get it, you’ll have to step outside and take it. That way, you have a built-in, plausible reason to leave if you need it. He also said to position yourself close to an exit in the home and take note of any objects, or people, who may block a hasty exit.

Risky meeting spaces to avoid:

  • Parking lots
  • Side of a street or road
  • Isolated, outdoor spaces at night
Red icon of person enclosed in a target

He said Notaries should look at a client’s body language to help them determine threat risk: “When people have intentions, they more than likely will express them nonverbally. According to the science of communication, (people) communicate nonverbally more than any other way,” he said. “If a person is getting too close, or positioning, like cutting off a potential escape route … those are all red-flag intentions that something isn’t right.”

Fowler said the number one thing people get wrong about personal safety is denial. “We deny the fact that people can have bad intentions towards us, which costs us time,” he said. “We really want to give people the benefit of the doubt; our hearts are good — it’s hard to imagine, ‘why would someone hurt me?’ You have to take a step back and say, overall, people are good, but there are some bad apples in the barrel, and if we deny that, we miss the triggers, the signs and symptoms. It costs us time and distance, and time and distance always equal safety.”


Related Articles:

10 Important Safety Tips For Notaries And Signing Agents To Follow


19 Comments

Add your comment

workingwithjuliet@gmail.com

25 Feb 2020

i never liked the idea of meeting someone at their home, i think that it would be a good idea to see if i can meet the signer at a mutual place that we can agree on.

J

24 Apr 2021

I agree. I think I would rather meet a person on their porch or at the nearest store/ parking lot

J

24 Apr 2021

I agree. I like the idea of meeting up at someone's doorway or on the porch. I'm just simply not going into someone's home for safety reasons. In addition with covid-19 precautions the signer should totally understand

Marie

09 Nov 2021

I am a certified notary Signing Agent, Ninety nine percent of notarizations are happening at people’s homes, so what are you guys talking about?

Sharon

29 Nov 2021

Interesting reading. Do we ever have an option to meet away from the client's home? I thought we almost always have to meet at the client's home unless they request meeting elsewhere.

Betty

29 Nov 2021

Haven't had a lot of meeting at a fast food restaurant in awhile BUT 2 yrs ago the restaurants demand that Somebody buy something. If the signer requested the location I tell them this ahead of time and they have always bought a meal/snack Just FYI. House location/neighborhood is important to safety. If the signers lives in a fancy neighborhood or a safe and small town I don't worry about it. I also have Concealed Carry (IL.)

David Nixon

29 Nov 2021

I have been an NSA since Dec 2005. I have never been concerned about going into singer's homes. But I will confess that since all of these are home refi signings arranged by a title company, a margin of safety is built in.

Patricia Berger

29 Nov 2021

During loan signings, the customer's home address is well known by the realtor and the loan and title companies, so the risk there is very low. The single transactions where the customer's address is not known by anyone except the notary are the risky ones (especially for divorce and custody documents, as well as for Will signings). I took a self-defense course offered by the San Diego Police Department a while ago that was extremely helpful!

Jerry Lucas

29 Nov 2021

U.S. Postal Service rules and regulations prohibit the use of post office property for commercial soliciting and vending, and displaying or distributing commercial advertising. The post office is for postal business. Violations are subject to fines and/or improsonment under federal law. Source: https://about.usps.com/posters/pos7.pdf

Patricia Berger

29 Nov 2021

I will often meet the customer in the lobby of a well-known national hotel. I have never had a problem with a staff member, and I tell them at the front desk that i am checking out their hotel to refer them to family members and friends that come in to town...which is true! :-)

Lisa A Rancour

14 Dec 2021

I usually look at the satellite view of the location and then the crime map for that area.

Doug Y.

14 Dec 2021

My notary business is in southern Arizona. I'm a notary and NSA. Being 40 minutes from the US-Mexico border, I am often asked whether I will take a job at a remote desert location. My very first loan signing was an interesting one. The appt was at 7am. So I was driving in the dark the whole way. My car (2020 model) GPS led me on a route that was WAY out near the border. I went from paved roads to gravel roads to dirt. I came over a hill and four Border Patrol vehicles had their lights flashing. They had a crowd of about 20 illegals held at bay. I continued on a few more miles and suddenly came to a dead end with steel gates across the road. Obviously my GPS was leading me to never-never land. I was running out of time, so I decided I should call the client. Unfortunately I was in an area with no cell service. I decided to double back to try and get cell service. While driving back I passed some more people out in the brush. I ascended a hill and was finally able to get cell service. This time I decided to use Google Maps on my phone - and it led me to the client's home on the top of a mountain. I arrived right on time and breathed a sign of relief. I am a big guy (6'1" and 225 lbs). But if I had a dozen people blocking the road, at night, maybe at gunpoint, in the middle of nowhere, and they wanted my car - I would have no choice but to give it to them. After the signing, my signers suggested I take a different, safer route home. Unfortunately, that didn't work. When I reached Nogales, the road was barricaded. And this time there must have been a dozen border patrol and police vehicles! I had no choice but to go back the way I came. Except now it was daylight. The round trip was 125 miles and I made a grand total of $90 for the job. Moral of the story... 1) I refuse to do jobs along the border at night. Too dangerous. 2) IF I take a job along the border, out in the pucker-brush, it had better pay extremely well. Signing companies need to understand the dangers. 3) I don't trust my car's GPS. 4) Cell service in remote areas is very unreliable. 5) Even though I'm a big guy in decent shape, I'm no match against a crowd of people. And even if I were carrying, it wouldn't matter. Some coyote in the crowd could pick me off with me seeing him. I won't ever put myself in that position again.

Carol Peterson

14 Dec 2021

I am also an NSA for 20 yrs. I live in a small area that is also a tourist town. I do many loan signings for travelers in their hotels. I always meet in the lobby or breakfast room. Never in their room. There is a measure of safety when you are being sent by title companies. I love doing this!

Rob M

14 Dec 2021

Nice article. As easy as this is, "people" are most often the "fly" in the ointment. Coffee shop, libraries, I've even, based upon the "tone" of the customer asked that I meet them in the lobby or parking lot of the police station. Senior citizen home notarizations ALWAYS elevate my concern of elderly being manipulated. To be honest. . .having a weapon without a viable defense strategy when ambushed is simply a wasted weapon if someone wishes you harm. Your best defense is to avoid that possible outcome by "just say no" to the rish.

lgrome@mydobson.net

15 Dec 2021

I have been a Notary Agent for almost 20 yrs. Have gone to the nicest areas and the worst areas. truck stops, McDonalds, and motels. I have never felt threatened.

Dorothy

13 Nov 2023

When I have general notary assignments, I have arranged meeting clients at the nearest public library, especially when I'm not supplying the witnesses. I have also arranged meeting clients at the nearest supermarket that has a good size area with tables and chairs. It has worked out great using these public meeting places for general notary signings.

Brenda

13 Nov 2023

I believe in intuition best strategy God placed within a human being. Follow your intuition if it don’t feel right that is great reason to just say no. If at night best meeting place is at a police station period. If they cannot go there you shouldn’t either .

Rubber city notary

13 Nov 2023

This is why I try to do as many notarizations online as possible. It eliminates the need for travel,as well as saving on paper and the identifying information is already verified before meeting the signer. Unfortunately not everyone is up to date with this type of technology.

Notary in iowa

13 Nov 2023

What everyone fails to think about is this. Doesn’t matter who knows where you are, by the time anyone can get to you, you will already be dead. I always thought it was the expectation to meet at the persons house. Now that I know it is not, I will never do it again. I always hated that part the most!

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