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Can Notaries accept copies of signer IDs?

Notary examining photo of signer ID on mobile device

Updated 5-13-24. Many Notaries have contacted us asking, “A signer just gave me a photocopy of his driver’s license. Can I accept it as ID?”  During COVID-19, presenting copies of official records gained widespread acceptance because many people used photos of vaccination cards for admission to restaurants and businesses. Is it OK to accept copies of ID when notarizing, whether physical or a photo taken with a phone?

No. Notaries should never accept copies of identification documents from a signer as proof of identity. Here are 4 reasons why:

  1. States do not allow Notaries to accept copies of signer IDs
  2. Copies of IDs are vulnerable to tampering
  3. Copies of IDs lack security features Notaries use to check for fraud
  4. Accepting a photocopy of an ID could result in legal liability 

States do not allow Notaries to accept copies of signer IDs

Several states require the signer to present an actual identification document — not a copy. For example, CaliforniaFlorida and Pennsylvania require signers to present specific identification documents for notarization. For example, the California statute says a Notary may accept a driver’s license or identification card issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Since the DMV does not issue anything other than actual IDs, the plain reading of the statute means that a driver’s license or ID issued by the DMV cannot be anything other than the actual license. Furthermore, in the past, the California Secretary of State has clarified that “temporary” California driver’s licenses issued to drivers renewing their licenses do not meet the statute’s requirement. 

Texas requires signers to present a current identification card issued by the federal government or any state government that includes a photo and signature. The critical point here is even though a state law may not explicitly require an ID to be “original,” the plain and natural reading of any law that states that a “driver’s license,” “passport,” or government-issued” ID presented to a Notary implies that the original must be presented.

Copies of IDs are vulnerable to tampering

What about Notaries in states that don’t specify the types of ID acceptable for a notarization, like Ohio? Even if your state doesn’t list particular IDs you may accept or list the general requirements for an ID presented to a Notary, accepting a copy of an ID card — either a photocopy or a photo on a mobile device — is a terrible idea.

You cannot tell if a copy is altered or forged, which means the risk of fraud for the notarization is much higher. Photocopies and digital images are easily changed using editing apps widely available to the public.

Copies of IDs lack security features Notaries use to check for fraud

A copy is much easier to tamper with than an official state or federal-issued ID. State and federal IDs include security features that help Notaries confirm the ID is genuine when examining it. Examples include holograms, raised prints or patterns, and hidden details that copies lack.

Also, a photocopy or photo of an ID often only shows one side of the identification document. Many IDs include security features on both the front and back. If you can’t examine both sides of an ID, you run a much higher risk of being tricked by a dishonest signer. This could lead to you facing penalties or lawsuits if the notarized document is used to commit fraud.

Accepting a photocopy of an ID could result in legal liability

Three states – California, Florida, and Tennessee – have statutes that say that the standard of care for a Notary in accepting an ID to verify a signer’s identity is “reasonable reliance” on the presentation of the ID. “Reasonable reliance” means that a Notary must exercise reasonable care only to accept the forms of identification listed in the statute. Reasonable care would dictate that the conscientious Notary only accept actual IDs, not copies. In the case of California and Tennessee, both have statutes saying that “an officer who has taken an acknowledgment pursuant to this section shall be presumed to have operated in accordance with [the law] (see CA Civil Code 1185[b][3]-[4] and Tenn. Code Ann. 66-22-106[d]). This means that a Notary who reasonably relies on a driver’s license or other acceptable ID to identify an acknowledger has a “safe harbor” — a shield from liability. So, the bottom line is: if you carefully follow the law, you will have exercised reasonable care. If you take the risk of accepting copies of a signer’s ID, you could be subject to legal liability.

David Thun is the Editorial Manager at the National Notary Association


Related Articles:

5 tips for authenticating a signer’s ID for notarization


Additional Resources:

Guides for checking IDs


16 Comments

Add your comment

Kevin Castro

10 Apr 2023

information

Sandra

24 Apr 2023

This information is very helpful.

George Frey

24 Apr 2023

Re: California, if a signer has a paper DMV temporary license along with the expired corresponding hard card license is that acceptable?

National Notary Association

24 Apr 2023

Hello. No, you may not accept the temporary license. The expired license may be accepted as proof of identity if the license was issued within the past 5 years.

Audrey

24 Apr 2023

When notarizing digitally; how do I check identity?

National Notary Association

24 Apr 2023

Hello. To help us answer your question, can you please tell us what state you are commissioned in? Also, are you referring to In-Person Electronic Notarization (IPEN) or Remote Online Notarization (RON)?

Nathalia Jensen

25 Apr 2023

I saw someone already asked this question about California,if a signer has a paper DMV temporary license along with the expired corresponding hard card license is that acceptable? I saw the answer was: Hello. No, you may not accept the temporary license. The expired license may be accepted as proof of identity if the license was issued within the past 5 years. Does this answer apply to all the states that issue temporary driver license on paper (like Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, etc or only California?

National Notary Association

26 Apr 2023

Hello. The answer applies specifically to California. Each state's rules regarding proof of signer identity are different.

Gilbert

25 Apr 2023

Excellent customer information as a reminder

Andy Telcy

26 Apr 2023

No, now all set

Notary in Florida

27 Apr 2023

What about in states that issue digital IDs? I have an electronic ID issued by the State of Florida's HSMV called Florida Smart ID. More info here: https://mydmvportal.flhsmv.gov/Home/en/Account/Landing

National Notary Association

28 Apr 2023

Hello. Some points to be aware of in Florida: First, an official ID issued electronically is not the same as a photo or copy of a physical ID made with a mobile device camera, just as a physical driver's license is not the same as a photocopy of that license. Second, while Florida has passed a law authorizing mobile IDs, these electronic IDs are still in the pilot program stage and Notaries may not yet have the technology required to authenticate a digitally issued ID. A FL Notary would not be able to accept a digital ID as proof of a signer's identity if the Notary does not have the necessary tools to authenticate the digital ID's validity. Finally in order to accept an electronic form of identification in Florida it would need to comply with state Notary laws. The ID would need to be current or issued within the past 5 years, bear a serial or other identifying number, and may only include the following: “a. A Florida identification card or driver’s license issued by the public agency authorized to issue driver’s licenses; “b. A passport issued by the Department of State of the United States; “c. A passport issued by a foreign government if the document is stamped by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (sic); “d. A driver’s license or an identification card issued by a public agency authorized to issue driver’s licenses in a state other than Florida or in a territory of the United States, or Canada or Mexico; “e. An identification card issued by any branch of the armed forces of the United States; “f. A veteran health identification card issued by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs; “g. An inmate identification card issued on or after January 1, 1991, by the Florida Department of Corrections for an inmate who is in the custody of the department; “h. An inmate identification card issued by the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Federal Prisons, for an inmate who is in the custody of the department; “i. A sworn, written statement from a sworn law enforcement officer that the forms of identification for an inmate in an institution of confinement were confiscated upon confinement and that the person named in the document is the person whose signature is to be notarized; or “j. An identification card issued by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (sic)” (FS 117.05[5]).

Susan Marie Neal

08 May 2023

Can an expired licence be used in Indiana for identification?

National Notary Association

12 May 2023

Hello. Only if the license has not been expired for more than 3 years (IC 33-42-9-4[b][1]).

MELANIE GUY

02 Aug 2023

Can you provide me with the statute in Florida that explicitly states that notaries are not allowed to accept copies of ID's for identification purposes? I have located the one outlining the acceptable forms of identification, but I am specifically seeking the statute that addresses the unacceptability of using copies for identification purposes. Unfortunately, I have to have this conversation more than I wish to and would like it to back up my statement. Thank you

National Notary Association

04 Aug 2023

Hello. FS 117.05[5] lists the specific types of identification document Florida Notaries may accept from signers and their requirements. Any identification documents not on this list (including photocopies of ID) are not acceptable.

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