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What Would You Do Answers: The case of the masked ID photo

Last week, we shared a situation based on a real-life ID issue, where we asked Notaries how they would handle a driver’s license that included a photo of a person wearing a mask. While the ID technically meets notarization requirements, the mask makes it difficult if not impossible to verify the signer’s appearance. Here’s what our readers had to say about this difficult challenge.

What our Notaries said

Many Notaries were concerned about the fact that the person’s features in the photo are covered by a mask, and said that they would ask the signer to provide another acceptable form of ID that included an unmasked photo.

“It seems highly unlikely that a government agency would take a photo of a licensee masked. However, in this day and age anything is a possibility,” said Notary Sherri Daniel. “I would ask for another form of identification with a clear photo.”

Thurman Page agreed. “I could not stand in front of a judge and say I was sufficiently satisfied that the ID assured me of who was in front of me,” Page said. “Identity is the issue, not whether the ID is accepted by the government.”

Others, like Doris Laul, said they would want to contact the agency that issued the ID to confirm that masked photos are being permitted. “If I can’t get through to someone at the DMV, I would refuse and tell the person to come back with another form of ID.”

Phil Schobert said he would ask for two additional forms of picture ID, and if the signer could not provide them, would ask for the signer to provide a credible identifying witness instead. “If none of these can be produced, then I cannot perform any sort of notarial act. It’s my commission on the line,” Schobert said.

Guidance from the NNA

Readers concerned about identifying the signer in this situation are right to be cautious. If a signer’s features cannot be seen in a photo due to concealment such as a mask, the Notary runs the risk of being duped by an impostor. Article III-B-1 of The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility states, “The Notary shall exercise a high degree of care in identifying each principal and witness identifying a principal, if any, using means allowed or prescribed by law in the state where the Notary is commissioned.”

As some of our eagle-eyed readers noticed, this scenario was based on a real-life situation in California where a woman was issued a license with a masked photo. According to news reports, the woman was photographed twice — once with her mask on, and again with it off — and when she received the masked photo ID, she immediately contacted the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The NNA reached out to the California DMV, and the agency confirmed that the woman had a new photo taken and will receive a new driver’s license.

David Thun is the Assistant Managing Editor for the National Notary Association.

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Add your comment

Danny Triplin

08 Mar 2021

I wouldn't accept the mask ID. Need to be able to clearly identify signer.


08 Mar 2021

Call on a witness to verify identity.

LaGenna Thompson

10 Mar 2021

I would ask the signer to pull the mask down enough for me to see the face and remain socially distanced from the signer. Also, ask the necessary COVID-19 questions to determine if the client is ill if I am seeing them in person.

Melissa Merkler

18 Mar 2021

From my understanding, any religious face coverings that are obstructing the immediate face must be removed for the photo. However, the hair or hair being covered is not an issue based on what I have researched.

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