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How to report a Notary crime

Notaries are the first line of defense against forgery, identity theft, mortgage fraud and other document fraud crimes. This means that dishonest Notaries who violate their official duties can wreak havoc in real estate and other transactions of value when they commit illegal acts. If you witness a fellow Notary intentionally violating their duties, you should report them to the Notary commissioning and regulating official of your state, and to law enforcement as well. This is in keeping with Standard X-B-1 of The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility of 2020 which says, "The Notary shall report to the commissioning or other regulating authority violations of the statutes, regulations, and official guidelines governing the conduct of Notaries."

Illustration of unauthorized hand using Notary seal

Notary crimes cause serious harm

In the mid-2000s, an infamous Los Angeles con artist was stealing home titles by filing fraudulent deeds. To everybody who met him, this con artist seemed honest and genuine. Using his persuasive skills, he told a local Notary that he helped homeowners in foreclosure who did not have time to appear in person for notarizations. He asked the Notary to sign and stamp one hundred blank deeds, and the Notary did so. The con artist later filled in the blanks to make it look like his companies owned the properties, and then he sold them, took out mortgages against them, or put tenants in them and fraudulently collected the rent.

Another con artist, who belonged to six different churches, victimized church-goers under the guise of being a mortgage broker. At church where he hunted for his victims, he persuaded his fellow parishioners to fill out mortgage loan applications, so he could see if he could "find them a better interest rate." Using their personal identifying information, he obtained mortgages in their names and bought 25 houses, which he then filled with tenants and collected the rent. How did he get his victims' notarized signatures on the mortgage documents? His girlfriend was a Notary who let him borrow her stamp and journal.

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Where do you report a Notary crime?

Over the past six months, readers from a variety of states have messaged The National Notary Bulletin's blog comments section asking how to report alleged Notary crimes they witnessed. One reader claimed a Notary at a local car dealership was signing and notarizing the names of deceased people on documents. Another from New York claimed that a local Notary was notarizing fraudulent signatures with an expired commission. A third alleged a Notary had falsely notarized documents to enable someone else gain ownership of her deceased father's car.

If you observe that another Notary has intentionally committed a criminal act, you should report the conduct to the agency that regulates Notaries in your state. Some states like Florida and California even provide forms online to make your complaint. However, while state Notary agencies may be able to administer administrative penalties for Notary misconduct, this does not guarantee that a bad Notary will be referred to law enforcement for criminal prosecution.

When reporting a suspected Notary crime in Florida, the Florida Notary Department says a complaint should include any facts related to the alleged misconduct, including the portion of Chapter 117 of the Florida Statutes which is relevant, along with copies of any documents alleged to be improperly notarized.

According to California Notary Public Section Manager Lee Garvey, the best way to report fraud committed by California Notaries is to complete the complaint form and include certified copies of any relevant documentation to the following address:

California Secretary of State
Notary Public Section
P.O. Box 942877
Sacramento, California 94277-0001.

While the state Notary office can investigate complaints against California Notaries, it does not have the legal authority to order money to be refunded or damages to be awarded. Garvey said any questions about recovering lost funds or voiding fraudulently notarized documents would need to be answered by an attorney.

Illustration of man looking at laptop

Other agencies that investigate Notary crimes

Lee Garvey brings up an important point. Commissioning officials generally do not have the authority to pursue criminal complaints involving Notary misconduct. After notifying your Notary commissioning and regulating official, you should also file a report with local authorities such as the police, the district attorney, or a local government fraud investigative unit. These authorities then can review the report and determine whether to file a criminal complaint against the perpetrator.

"Unfortunately, the most common illegal Notary acts reported to our office are those that we do not have authority to investigate, mostly involving allegations of fraudulent signatures. We advise the complainants to contact local law enforcement, a local prosecuting attorney, and their own private attorney for assistance," said Arkansas Notary Administrator David Easley.

Even if your state Notary commissioning or regulating official can't directly investigate a complaint, Easley said it's still a good idea to contact them anyway and report the suspected crime. "By submitting the Notary complaint, they are putting the Notary Public and the Arkansas Secretary of State on official notice that suspected illegal activity has occurred. This is an important first step in seeking any sort of criminal and/or civil recourse," Easley said.

Sam Taylor, Texas Assistant Secretary of State for Communications, suggested that if the Notary crime being reported involves identity theft, phone or email scams, elder abuse, or healthcare fraud, the suspected illegal activity should be reported to a state consumer protection agency, such as the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division in Texas.

Illustration of man holding documents

What information you should provide?

Supporting information is very important when reporting a suspected Notary crime to Notary commissioning and regulating officials and local law enforcement. You should include as much information as possible about the Notary involved, as many details about the alleged crime as you can along with copies of supporting documents or evidence you have.

"It is important to include the name of the Notary as it appears on the Notary's commission, the commission number, the business or mailing address for the Notary, and all relevant details regarding the notarial misconduct being alleged," Garvey said.

In Texas, the Notary complaint must include documentation that supports the allegations, including a copy of the notarized document in question, and the completed complaint form must be notarized with a sworn statement under penalty of perjury that the information submitted in the complaint is true and correct, Taylor said.

But don't be afraid to report a suspected crime even if you don't have all the details. You never know when it might add the missing puzzle piece to an investigation that is already underway. If you observe a colleague intentionally violating their Notary duties, make a report to the government agency that regulates your profession and to law enforcement as soon as possible. The damage that an unscrupulous Notary can cause is too great to let it slide.

David Fleck is a former L.A. County Deputy District Attorney with more than two decades of experience in fraud cases. Consuelo Israelson is a freelance writer who frequently covers Notary related issues.


Related Articles:

5 Scammers Notaries Need To Watch Out For

Duping Notaries: The Tricks Fraudsters Use


12 Comments

Add your comment

Sandra Bradley Reid

11 Jul 2022

Excited about getting involved with notary. I have had my shield for over 5 years

Maria Barragan

11 Jul 2022

I’m a notary public I renew my linces on o tuber 2”21 but I lost my original car for seal autorización permit. How can I get a new one I don have my seal so I’m not able to notarize any document since last year.please advise thank you

National Notary Association

11 Jul 2022

Hello. If you applied for your commission through the NNA, you can contact our Customer Care team at services@nationalnotary.org to request assistance. Otherwise, you will need to contact your state Notary regulating agency directly to request a replacement.

John C. Plantada

11 Jul 2022

I discovered the fraudulent use of my own signature and seal when I received a letter form the CA Secretary of State in late 2020. The letter admonished me for performing a notarial act on two documents requiring a Jurat, and my signature and seal didn't include the required CA Jurat language. Of course, I recognized immediately that I had not performed these notarial acts, but rather my signature and seal had been lifted from another document with some "photoshop"-like software and placed on the documents. Ironically, the documents were filed with the CA Secretary of State and were easily recognized as having been completed incorrectly. I recognized that the person whose signature was incorrectly notarized had had brought a document for a notarial act about 6 months earlier. After investigating, not only did I confirm this, but I determined that she was a CA notary public! I wrote to the SoS with a full explanation, copies of my journal entry (6 months earlier), copies of my journal on the alleged date of the notarial act and other details I won't go into here. I have followed up a few times in the past 1 1/2 years, and except for receiving a confirmation letter shortly after my first follow up call, nothing has been done to suspend or revoke this woman's commission. This is a clear case of fraud. I just checked the Secretary of State's listing and found this woman is still an active notary public. It makes you wonder why the state exam focuses so much on the civil and criminal penalties for illegal activity.

Rene desir

12 Jul 2022

Thanks I get it I will always do the best of me to pay attention for this

George

26 Aug 2022

When notaries let someone else use their stamp, that is a willful act of wrong doing, - If a crime is done due to that can victims put a claim in the errors and emission - with all of this seems like victims are left with no remedies and notaries all they can say it was not me and they are ok - very unfair

Jennifer M Howlett

03 Oct 2022

I am trying to find out how to report a notary for misconduct. We believe my uncle's will had been altered and it was notarized by his wife's daughter. There is also a witness signature of someone who was deceased 5 days prior to the signing of the will. Any help is greatly appreciated.

National Notary Association

04 Oct 2022

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

Roy-Samuel Logan sr

25 Oct 2022

I went to a credit union to get my documents notarized and the notary stated that she was told not to notarize my documents because they were afadatives and can not do them?

National Notary Association

31 Oct 2022

Hello. To help us answer your question, can you please tell us what state you are located in and describe the type of notarization you requested for your documents?

Melissa Torres

26 Oct 2022

What happens after I submit the Complaint Form? Will I be notified about anything? Will the Notary and signing witnesses all know it was me who reported them?

National Notary Association

31 Oct 2022

Hello. You would need to contact the agency you submitted the complaint to in order to ask about anonymity, any follow up response on their part, etc.

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