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4 illegal things Notaries should never do — and why

Breaking the law when you're parking, driving, or littering may earn you a ticket or small fine. Breaking the law when notarizing can result in jail time, loss of your Notary commission, or thousands of dollars in costly lawsuits.

This doesn't mean that the police are waiting around every corner to haul you off to prison if you violate a Notary law. But willingly breaking the law during a notarization doesn't just lead to more paperwork — it enables fraud that can potentially cost thousands of dollars and embroil your customers in legal problems that can last years. In this article, we'll show you four illegal actions Notaries should never do, why these acts can harm you and the public, and their potential consequences.

Illustration of hand writing false information

Illegal Notary Act 1: Entering false information on a Notary certificate

What does this mean? Signers often need documents notarized in a hurry to meet important deadlines, If an issue comes up that could delay a transaction, signers sometimes ask Notaries filling out a certificate to write a different date for the notarization (known as "backdating") or alter other information in the certificate (such as listing an absent signer as present during a notarization) to expedite the document transaction. Never do this!

Why is it illegal? Businesses, government agencies, and consumers rely on notarization to ensure the integrity and trustworthiness of documents. If you falsify information on a certificate, whoever possesses the fraudulently notarized document can use it to commit fraud.

What are the consequences? Knowingly falsifying a Notary certificate is prohibited in every state and can result in serious penalties. For example, in Georgia, a Notary who knowingly executes a certificate containing false information can be found guilty of a misdemeanor. In California, being found guilty of intentionally falsifying Notary certificate information is a misdemeanor, and if it involved an acknowledgment, a civil penalty of up to $10,000.

Illustration of not requiring personal appearance

Illegal Notary Act 2: Failing to require a signer to personally appear during a notarization

What does this mean? One of the most common — and potentially damaging — illegal acts a Notary can do is notarizing a person's signature without the signer's personal appearance. When you perform a notarization, the signer must always personally appear. For traditional pen-and-paper notarizations, this means the signer must physically be present before you during the notarization. For remote notarization, the signer must appear and communicate with you using audiovisual communication technology compliant with your state's laws. Never notarize without the signer's personal appearance.

Why is it illegal? If you notarize a signature without the signer personally appearing, you have no way to know if the person signed the document willingly — or if the signature was falsified by someone else! You also have no way to prove the person's identity. In many documented cases, scammers who convinced Notaries to ignore personal appearance requirements faked the notarized signatures themselves to commit elder abuse, real estate fraud, or other crimes.

What are the consequences? Personal appearance is one of the basic requirements of notarization. In Florida, it is a civil infraction punishable by up to $5,000 and it doesn't matter if the Notary did it without intent to defraud. In North Carolina and Hawaii, not only is the Notary's commission automatically revoked, it is a misdemeanor offense.

Illustration of a hand using Notary seal

Illegal Notary Act 3: Letting someone else use your seal

What does this mean? Only you — the commissioned Notary — are authorized to use your official seal to perform notarizations. No other person — including family members, co-workers, or an employer — can use your seal for any purpose. Never let anyone else use your Notary seal.

Why is it illegal? Your official seal is used to authenticate every notarization you do. In the wrong hands, a seal could be used to fool authorities into accepting a falsified document as authentic. What's worse, if someone else uses your seal to commit fraud, you could potentially face penalties if you failed to follow state rules for securing the seal and you yourself could become a victim and be required to hire an attorney to prove you didn't perform the illegal notarizations.

What are the consequences? In California, a Notary who willfully fails to keep their seal under their sole control can be found guilty of a misdemeanor offense and could incur an additional civil penalty of $1,500 as well. If the Notary negligently fails to protect the seal, the civil penalty is $750. Even in states without rules for securing a Notary seal, allowing someone else to use your Notary tools could make you potentially liable for a lawsuit if the other person uses your seal to commit fraud.

Illustration of a hand holding cash

Illegal Notary Act 4: Charging an improper Notary fee

What does this mean? When charging a signer for your services, you should never charge a higher Notary fee than your state allows. You must also avoid charging fees that are not allowed in your state.

Why is it illegal? The fees Notaries can charge are regulated by state law. For example, Florida Notaries may not charge more than $10 for each traditional notarization or more than $25 for a remote notarization (although fees for services other than performing notarial acts aren't covered by the $25 maximum fee). Some states also regulate other fees Notaries may charge such as travel fees. These regulations are in place to protect customers from being unfairly price-gouged by Notaries. While some states do not set maximum fees, they may have other guidelines. For example, Arkansas does not have a fee limit, but any fee for services must be "reasonable" and agreed to by the signer before the notarization takes place.

Also, some states (for example, Missouri) prohibit Notaries from charging fees for certain services such as charging for notarizing signatures on absentee ballots.

What are the consequences? In Arizona, charging an improper fee may result in your commission being suspended or revoked. Always follow your state's Notary fee rules and guidelines for any other associated fees.

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

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4 illegal things Notaries should never do

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20 Comments

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Eileen M Weaver

13 Jun 2022

Thank you for the PDF, very helpful.

Richard Koros

13 Jun 2022

First of all , a traveling notary going 100 miles round trip in the state of Illinois is in fact allowed to charge based on travel time , mileage, etc .

Jesus Martinez

13 Jun 2022

This information it is very important to know, so you go in the right direction. I am a notary since 1998

Yvette Holloway

13 Jun 2022

Richard, they’re talking about the charge for the notarization and not the travel expense. You are absolutely allowed to charge for travel. Though I don’t see why anyone would want to pay an out of town notary when they could have gone to their bank to receive that same service at no charge.

Dianne Petrie

13 Jun 2022

Informative information I would never compromise any document under any circumstance.

Latonya Robinson

13 Jun 2022

Thank you..it's very helpful 🙂

Kimberly Tate

13 Jun 2022

Thank you for the information.

Michael T Scherer

13 Jun 2022

With increased prices on gas, food, building materials, cars, etc, California still has not raised fees notaries are allowed to charge. I like the idea of a "reasonable" price agreed upon by both the Notary and the customer.

rolleg54@gmail.com

13 Jun 2022

Thank you for showing us the four things notary must not do.

Gloria Hobbs Thomas

13 Jun 2022

Thanks for the information

gloriahobbs82@icloud.com

13 Jun 2022

Thanks for the information

ROBERTO ARROYO

13 Jun 2022

Very good info, please keep them coming. I am brand new to this so keep them coming please.

Etta Johnson

13 Jun 2022

Thank you for the information. It was helpful.

Kelley McNaughton

14 Jun 2022

Thank you for sharing your Knowledge.

Susan Urban

14 Jun 2022

I have been a notary for year’s. But I recently signed up to be a certified notary to be able to branch out and go to places that would need my services. Any and all information that I can acquire would help me to become the best notary that I can be. Thank you

Thanks for the refresh information

14 Jun 2022

thanks for the refresh information

Mable semple

14 Jun 2022

this a very good reminder Information, that always helpful

Nethus

14 Jun 2022

I am a certified loan signing agent. Thank you for all information.

MLCunningham

15 Jun 2022

I’m a newbie…will take my Loan Signing Exam in two days. Thank you for sharing the knowledge.

Q Qureshi

16 Jun 2022

I am a loan signing agent. Thanks to NNA keeps us well informed.

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