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Notary Bulletin

'Why would someone forge my Notary seal?'

One of the biggest shocks any Notary can receive is the discovery that someone has forged their Notary seal. That discovery usually comes in the form of a legal claim of some sort or knock on the door from someone in law enforcement. But why would somebody forge your Notary seal? Because a fake Notary stamp is the single most powerful tool for a fraudster.

Consider that if a crook walks into a bank with a gun, he might walk out with $5,000, but the FBI will find him, and he will go to prison for many years. If the same crook instead walks into mortgage broker’s office with a forged Notary seal on a property deed, he can walk out with a fraudulent $750,000 mortgage loan. The sad thing is, there is a very high chance that this equity thief will never get prosecuted for the crime, or if he does, he will get the proverbial slap on the wrist.

For many fraudsters, the only thing better than a forged Notary seal is a real seal they steal or “borrow.” As a former real estate fraud prosecutor, I have witnessed the power of forged or stolen Notary seal many times.

In one case, an infamous criminal syndicate used fake stamps to “steal” properties. In other words, they made it appear that they owned these properties so that they could then take out loans against them or sell them to unsuspecting buyers.

Another con artist stole the personal identifying information of fellow parishioners at the six churches to which he belonged, and then, using an unauthorized stamp, he bought 2 dozen homes in their names and rented them out for his own cashflow. Yet another fraudster used forged Notary seals on powers of attorneys in the names of an elderly couple, and then she used those POAs to buy herself an $800,000 house.

Although there is no nationwide database about these types of crimes, based on information I have obtained from title insurance companies, I estimate that as many as 10,000 homeowners are victimized. In a large percentage of those cases, the professional identities of Notaries are stolen and their Notary seals misused.

The Notary risk: Con artists can easily forge your seal

Twenty years ago, it was not easy for a white collar criminal to forge a seal, and their only real option was to steal one. Today, the less sophisticated fraudster still might steal your seal if you fail to keep it locked up, but now they have other options as well.

Criminals can obtain fake stamps online, and for the small sum of $14, it will arrive on their doorstep in three days or less. The stamp can be made to look like a true Notary’s stamp with that Notary’s name and commission number, or the name and commission number could be totally fictitious. I have examples of both from cases I handled personally.

Criminals can also fabricate entire documents on their computers — signatures, Notary seal, and all. Literally every desktop computer and many printers have the technology to create believable forged documents that slip past watchful eyes at county recorder’s offices.

Savvy crooks can easily find seal impressions of real Notaries by going to locations where notarized documents are stored, such as property recorders’ offices.

Notary Defense: How to protect yourself

As a Notary, you are the gatekeeper against false impersonation and forged documents, and to commit their crimes, real estate fraudsters need to get past you. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your seal and to protect yourself.

Step 1: Keep your stamp secure: When you do not have your stamp in your physical possession, keep it locked up. One real estate fraud detective told me about a Notary who did everything right, except for one small thing: When she went out to lunch, she left her stamp in her unlocked desk drawer, and somebody in her office regularly “borrowed” it without her knowledge. By the time the detective finished his investigation, he found that Notary’s seal on over 400 fraudulent deeds across the country.

Step 2: Report missing or stolen stamps immediately: If your stamp disappears, report this to the agency that regulates notaries in your state. If you know it was stolen (as opposed to lost), make a police report immediately. This will protect you if your seal begins to appear on fraudulent documents, and you may have information that will help the investigators catch the thief.

Step 3: Keep a detailed journal: I have said this a thousand times, and I will say it another thousand times: The most important thing a Notary can do for their protection is to keep a journal with meticulous detail. Although not every state requires Notaries to do this, a well-kept journal will protect you and will help law enforcement when they are trying to find the perpetrator.

You may not be able to prevent a criminal of misusing your Notary identity, but if you follows these steps, you will be able to protect yourself.

Former L.A. County Deputy District Attorney David Fleck has more than two decades of experience in fraud cases. However, he has stopped taking new clients to focus on developing technology that allows Notaries to spot high-quality fake IDs with a simple smartphone app, which also secures documents through blockchain. Learn more at Veritable Data Solutions.



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