ID Photo Discrepancies In FL

When the signer doesn’t match their ID.
Imagine you are sitting across from a signer with shocking pink hair. The person seated across from you looks nothing like the photo of the middle- aged, silver haired woman on her ID. Just a style change? Or is it fraud?

Or, what about an individual who has just undergone significant weight loss surgery, grown a full beard that obscures his face or removed that beard?

The most important duty of a Notary is to verify the identity of the signer. And the fact that your signer does not resemble their ID photo certainly raises a red flag. But it doesn’t mean that the signer is an imposter.
While a visual match between the ID photo and the person present is preferable, the challenge arises when the match is not obvious. A lack of absolute visual match is not necessarily a reason to reject the ID. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when faced with this challenge:
Don’t Rely Solely On Variable Physical Traits

A person’s appearance changes over time, and sometimes frequently. Features such as hair style or color, weight, facial hair, and whether a person wears contacts or eyeglasses are all subject to change. In states with varying driver’s license terms and renewal policies, the ID photo may be 10, 15 or 20+ years old.

For instance, Arizona only requires a new photo every 12 years, one of the longest terms in the nation. Even when someone renews their driver’s license, many states do not require them to get a new photo.

So when examining the ID, consider the following:

Look at the birthdate to see if the signer appears to be the appropriate age.
Look at fixed traits such as ear shape and placement, jaw or chin shape, eye shape, or distance between facial features.
Look at the person’s general physical description (height, weight, color of eyes or hair, etc.).

If a single element is different but the other information on the ID (signature, height, etc.) is reasonably accurate, take that into account when deciding whether to accept the ID.
Look Beyond Physical Evidence Of Identity

As part of your process, ask the signer basic questions about the information on the ID.

What is their zip code?
What is their birthdate or astrological sign?
What is the number of their street address?

You should also observe their behavior. Are they trying to rush you or spontaneously provide justification as to why their signature or appearance doesn’t match?
Ask For Another ID

If concerned, you can ask the signer for another ID. Several states’ laws, including Pennsylvania, allow a Notary to do this. What is acceptable as a second form of ID will vary from state to state, so be sure to know your state’s requirements. For instance, California has a very specific list of acceptable forms of identification. It should also be noted that in California a Notary cannot “mix and match” IDs, using the photo from one ID and the physical description from another. A single ID must meet the requirements. However, some states, such as Texas, do not allow the use of secondary IDs. Any ID used in Texas must be a current identification card or other document issued by the federal government or any state government that contains the photograph and signature of the acknowledging person.

Some states allow for the use of credible identifying witnesses. However, in states such as California and Florida credible witnesses aren’t an option when a person’s ID doesn’t check out because the witness must swear that the signer does not have an ID listed in statute.

Ultimately, you are expected to make a reasonable judgment. If in your review of a signer’s ID you reasonably conclude that the signer is not an imposter, then you can proceed with the notarization. However, if you are not convinced the signer is who they say they are, you can and should refuse to go forward.

3 Important Tips For When A Document Lacks A Notary Certificate

The simplest way to know what type of notarization is needed on a document is to look at the Notary certificate. If it is an acknowledgment form or the wording has any variation of the word “acknowledge” in it, you perform an acknowledgment. If it is a jurat or verification form, or the wording has the words “subscribed and sworn,” you perform a jurat or verification. But what do you do if there’s no certificate? Here are three important steps to follow in this situation:

1. Avoid the unauthorized practice of law.

If you aren’t an attorney, remember that it’s against the law for you to provide unauthorized legal advice. This includes answering simple questions from a signer such as “What notarization do you think I should use here?” or “Which certificate form should I use?”

Giving that sort of advice is a violation of law and can result in some states with being charged with a criminal offense or possibly losing your Notary commission. And, if you give a signer the wrong information and it causes the signer legal problems, you could be forced to pay costly damages in a lawsuit.

When faced with the need to know the type of notarization a signer needs, always follow these rules:

  • Never choose the type of notarization for the signer, even if the signer wants you to.
  • Never give a signer advice about the type of notarization a particular document needs. For example, you should never say, “Most power of attorney documents I notarize require an acknowledgment.” You have no way of knowing if the signer’s document is an exception to the norm. Even if it isn’t, you’re unlawfully practicing law because you are applying legal concepts to a signer’s particular situation.

2. Ask the signer to choose.

While you can’t choose the notarization for a document, the signer can. If the signer can tell you the type of notarization they want, you can simply proceed from there.

However, most signers are unaware that there is more than one type of notarization or how to distinguish one from another. If the signer isn’t sure what they want, it’s OK to describe the different notarial acts the law authorizes you to perform and allow the signer to pick the one they want. For example, you can describe how acknowledgments and verifications (or jurats) differ and let the signer choose between them. Again, the most important thing is not to make the choice for them.

3. Check with the issuing or receiving agency.

If the signer still isn’t sure which notarization they need, they should contact someone who knows. This could be the individual or agency that issued the document, or the one that will receive it. If they can’t provide help, the signer may need to consult with an attorney who can give legal advice about the document.

A Notary’s Role In Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation

In Montana, as in every other state, there has been a significant increase in the number of cases of elder financial exploitation. What is particularly concerning is that these crimes are often committed with a Notary Public as an active, though sometimes unwitting, accomplice. This is certainly not the role Notaries should play in our society.

One recent case involved an elderly lady with dementia whose son used her power of attorney to sell her home and drain her bank accounts of over $240,000. She was left destitute — dependent on Medicaid and state-funded nursing care — a far cry from the well-planned and comfortable golden years she and her recently deceased husband had worked and saved for during their 60 years of marriage.

How was the Notary involved in this crime? She admitted to the authorities that she had notarized the power of attorney even though the son was forcibly directing his mother to sign the document when she had no idea what she was doing. By the time the crime was discovered, the son had squandered most of the money and left the country. The banks, the title company, and the other institutions involved in this case all absolved themselves of accountability for the same reason: They relied upon the notarized power of attorney as sufficient authorization for the transactions carried out by her “lawful” agent. And the Notary? Her defense was that she thought all she had to do was identify the elderly woman as the signer of the documents.

Protecting the Public

The National Notary Association advocates that Notaries, as public officials, play a key role in protecting the public. In the NNA’s White Paper, “Why Notarization Is More Relevant and Vital Than Ever,” published in 2011, the case was made that Notaries in the 21st century lend credibility and legitimacy to documents requiring the imprimatur of the Notary Public. The final paragraph summed up the message well:

“Properties are conveyed, contracts are honored, adoptions are finalized, estate plans are established and medical wishes are respected — all because documents bearing the authenticating signature and seal of a Notary Public are trusted. The notarial act is the foundation of trust and the Notaries who perform them are Society’s guarantors of integrity and authenticity.”

Those very elements of trust, integrity, and authenticity are called into question by some of the most egregious instances of elder financial exploitation, like the one above.

Sadly, elder financial exploitation is often committed by family members and caregivers — the people who should be most protective of the welfare of these vulnerable individuals. These crimes are particularly heinous because they are deliberate and premeditated, and frequently the damages cannot be recovered in time to help the victims.

A man who claimed to be a caregiver for an elderly gentleman in a small town in Montana is now facing over twenty years in prison for multiple counts of elder abuse and financial exploitation. A friend of the caregiver, who notarized several of the documents purportedly involved in the scheme, is also under investigation for her part in defrauding the victim of assets and property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the heart of the state’s prosecution is the contention that the victim was mentally incompetent to handle his affairs, and the caregiver and his accomplice stole his entire estate by means of documents that were forged and fraudulently notarized. The trial is scheduled for early next year.

With the proliferation of identity theft and the billions of dollars in cost to individuals and society at large, Notaries, of course, must diligently focus on demanding the signer’s physical presence and proof of the signer’s identity. That isn’t all though; the Notary should determine that the signer is intentionally signing the document and is aware of what the document is. The NNA’s Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility, Guiding Principle III, states:

“The Notary shall require the presence of each signer and oath-taker in order to carefully screen each for identity and willingness, and to observe that each appears aware of the significance of the transaction requiring a notarial act.”

Unfortunately, while Notaries are diligent in assuring that grandma is physically in their presence and is indeed the person named in the documents, they often do not realize that they should apply the standard of reasonable care to assessing grandma’s ability to knowingly and willingly sign those documents as well. Most states’ Notary laws don’t specifically require Notaries to do so. However, to protect the public in general and our eldest citizens in particular, it is imperative that Notaries take the extra step to verify that signers of powers of attorney and other high-value documents have voluntarily signed their names and understood what their documents mean if the trust that is implied by the notarial seal is to be maintained.

There are a number of things that Notaries can do to become a force in preventing elder financial exploitation and abuse.

Become Educated

Professor Emeritus Malcolm Morris of the Northern Illinois University College of Law, in his presentation during the NNA 2014 Conference in Phoenix, issued a challenge for Notaries to educate themselves when he noted that Notaries have the choice to become either “functionaries or professionals.” A functionary does the minimum; a professional takes the time to learn as much about the duties and responsibilities of the office as possible and prepares for handling unusual and complex situations before they arise. This is particularly necessary for preventing elder financial exploitation.

Professional Notaries should become familiar with the kinds of documents most commonly involved in elder exploitation. Learning the differences between the types of powers of attorney (general, limited, durable and medical) and knowing the types of documents that are used to transfer property (quitclaim deeds, deeds of trust/warranty deeds, titles) prepares the Notary to perform the requested notarization with confidence and a basic comprehension of the potential consequences of the document being signed. It’s not necessary to have extensive knowledge about these documents; simply having a general understanding of their purpose creates a strong foundation for the professional Notary, who can then be extra vigilant when signers present themselves
for notarization.

It’s also important for Notaries to recognize that not every situation of possible elder financial exploitation involves the elderly person directly. As shown by the two examples above, the initial fraud occurred when an enabling document — the power of attorney — was negligently or fraudulently signed and then notarized. Subsequently, the document was used by the agent to sign other documents, many requiring notarization, to perpetrate additional crimes.

In order to thwart those secondary frauds, Notaries must know and follow their state’s regulations about verifying an agent’s authority to sign in a representative capacity. Some states, like Montana, require that a Notary must verify the signer’s capacity before notarizing a document signed by an attorney in fact, trustee, or guardian. However, in most states, Notaries are not explicitly required to do this.

It must be noted that some states’ statutes are silent on this matter and other states specifically prohibit Notaries from requesting authorizing documents. Every Notary must know exactly what his or her state expects regarding the verification of an agent’s authority and capacity to sign on behalf of another person or entity, and then must act accordingly.

Assess the Situation

It is often difficult to determine the potential for abuse. Like many of the situations that Notaries face, reality doesn’t always match the model circumstances. Professional Notaries must know what the warning signs are and prepare themselves in advance to deal with the complex and unusual conditions that can occur when dealing with elderly signers or those who are signing on their behalf.

Some of the red flags include:

  • Someone other than the signer requests the notarization
  • You have been told that the signer is sedated or medicated
  • The signer appears confused, lethargic, tired or sleepy
  • The signer appears reluctant to sign the document
  • A friend or family member seems to be pressuring the signer to execute the documents
  • The signer/agent seems to be in a rush or hurry to have the notarization completed

Not every one of the above situations is always a problem, of course; for instance, it’s not that unusual for a person to ask if you will notarize something for a spouse or a friend. Yet when an adult child unknown to the Notary asks the Notary to come to an elderly parent’s home to notarize end of life documents, the Notary should be more alert for signs pointing to the possibility of fraud.

Manage the Notarization

Once the signers present themselves for the notarization, it’s critical for the Notary to assume control of the notarial process by directing it from start to finish. Unless witnesses are needed, the Notary should seriously consider removing everyone but the signer from the room. This offers the Notary a one-on-one opportunity to directly assess the signer’s awareness and intention to sign the document and to confirm that the signer is free from duress or pressure to sign the documents. This experience culminates in the signer either acknowledging his or her signature to the Notary or swearing to any required oath for the notarization.

Remember, performing a notarization is not an Olympic speed event. Points aren’t earned for completing a notarial certificate in record time. Don’t let the customer or other impending duties pressure you into rushing through the process. Take the time necessary to ascertain what you need to know and to explain to the signer what you are doing. Ultimately, this will ensure that you perform the notarization properly.

Create the Record

The final way that Notaries can combat elder financial exploitation is to complete a detailed record of the transaction. The journal entry is the official record of the transaction, and together with the notarial certificate on the document itself, provides confirmation that the document was properly signed or acknowledged in the presence of the Notary by the signer or legally authorized representative, who willingly executed the document for its intended purpose.

A Notary who records the specific details of the event in a journal provides invaluable information should a future challenge arise about the legitimacy of the transaction. It is not necessary to limit the entries in your journal to only those elements required by law or those suggested by best practices. Think of your journal as your diary and include any data that you think might be important if there would ever be a question about the transaction or the notarization. For example, you might want to record that the notarization was requested by the signer’s caregiver; that the caregiver was excused from the room before the notarization took place; who, if anybody else was present; that you visited with the signer for several minutes and determined that he/she was aware of the document, indicated that he/she understood its purpose, and intended to sign it for that purpose. That’s great contemporaneous evidence to complement the notarial certificate!

As the “guarantors of integrity and authenticity” Notaries Public can and should play a critical role in deterring, preventing, and combatting the scourge of elder financial exploitation. A notarized document should always be a shield, not a weapon, in the fight against elder financial abuse.

Ensuring Successful Notarizations For Hospital And Rehab Patients

Notarizing for medical patients can be among the most challenging assignments to complete, and often requires far more than basic Notary skills.

Clients in healthcare facilities can be very ill, heavily medicated or otherwise impaired, which means the notarization could require extra time, compassion and skill.

Often, patients who need to sign documents have issues with alertness, positive identification, signing ability and other challenges you won’t find covered in your Notary handbook.

In this setting, clients are at their most vulnerable. They’re often stuck in a room with equipment connected to them that beeps or buzzes; arm bands or leg stockings that squeeze their limbs; and IV bags hanging on poles, etc. They may be lying down, draped in a gown and thin blanket, and not physically or mentally at their finest.

In this situation, they may need significant documents notarized, such as powers of attorney, which gives another person temporary or long-term power to make their medical or financial decisions. Here are tips for notarizing documents for clients in hospitals, hospices and other healthcare facilities:

1. Schedule Extra Time For Hospital Notarizations

Consider total time versus uninterrupted time. After you find parking, which is usually not near the entrance of the facility, you may walk through a maze of hallways and elevators. There will likely be staff interruptions for taking vitals, making notes and conducting medical procedures, such as X-rays and changing IVs. Book a realistic amount of time for the appointment so that you won’t rush the client or be tempted to take shortcuts.

2. Speak To An Alert Signer

You should always make sure your signer is alert and aware of what’s going on before completing the notarization. Engaging your client in everyday conversation, as well as asking casual questions about the document, should help you decide if it is appropriate to proceed. If you are unsure, look to a nurse or social worker to see if there’s anything prohibiting them from signing. Follow the best practice of noting your client’s behavior and awareness in your journal.

If the signer’s family or other visitors are causing any kind of commotion, you might ask them to step out momentarily to ensure the signer is not being pressured or directed.

3. Know Guidelines For Alternatives To Full Signatures

Your client’s medical condition may make signing the document difficult. Make sure you’re familiar with your state’s guidelines regarding alternatives to a full signature. If witnesses are present and available, you may be able to have the patient sign with a mark, such as an “X” or even a thumbprint. If your signer is unable to sign, your state’s laws may allow the patient to direct another person to sign his or her name.

4. Understand The Alternatives To ID Documents

Many patients do not have their ID with them at the hospital, making the task of verifying your signer’s identity challenging. Again, you need to know what your state’s rules and guidelines say about what is acceptable ID — especially what is an acceptable alternative to an identity document. For example, does your state make provisions for the use of credible witnesses to identify a patient? If so, what are the requirements? If not, what other alternatives are there? When in doubt, call the NNA Hotline for assistance.

Taking assignments at medical facilities requires a little extra flexibility. Being fully prepared — down to bringing extra tools such as a clipboard and special pens for patients with arthritic or damaged hands — will go a long way toward making these types of appointments as streamlined and flawless as if performed in an office setting.

5. Know The Requirements Of The Facility

Apart from the Notary-related requirements, it also is helpful to ask about any non-notarial rules so you do not encounter any unexpected obstacles or legal issues that impact the acceptance of the document.

For example, if you go to a nursing home or long-term care facility in California to notarize an Advance Health Care directive, the signing must be witnessed by a patient advocate called an ombudsman. This person ensures that the patient understands what they are signing, is alert and agrees with the health care decisions detailed in the document. Without this special witness, the directive will not be honored at the facility and could be challenged at another facility.

Most other states have similar requirements. So it’s advisable to find out what type of document you’re expected to notarize ahead of time because ombudsmen are not employed by the facility and generally only work by appointment.

Psychiatric and behavioral centers also may have special requirements. Some facilities have policies barring patients from signing documents because they may be in an altered state or taking psychotropic medications. Either of these situations would impair their ability to make informed decisions. Some facilities will not allow you beyond the front desk.

For these assignments, check with the facility directly about their policies. The person hiring you may not be aware of them or may have inaccurate information.

If policy is not an issue, take extra care screening the signer for willingness and awareness, and make sure to document the steps you take in this environment. I ask for a doctor’s verification that the patient can sign for themselves before proceeding.

Laura Biewer owns At Your Service Mobile Notary in Modesto, California. She also teaches seminars for the National Notary Association and is a regular presenter at the NNA’s annual Conferences.

Identifying Signers: A Notary’s Greatest Challenge

“Can I accept this ID?” “My signer doesn’t look like the photo on her ID.” “What if the ID is expired?” Of all the questions Notaries ask the National Notary Association, the most common involve issues with verifying signers’ identities.

Compared to other tasks Notaries perform, verifying a signer’s identity is the most important, and arguably the most challenging. There are myriad variations of IDs and differing methods of verifying identity. And Notaries must always exercise a high-level of judgment before proceeding.

Every state and U.S. territory issues driver’s licenses and ID cards. In addition, there are inmate IDs, tribal IDs and identity cards issued by federal agencies, as well as the identity cards and passports issued by every country in the world.

What if the ID is issued by a county government? What if the passport is in a foreign language? What if you encounter a driver’s license marked with the words, “Federal Limits Apply” or “Permits Driving Only. Not for ID Purposes”? These issues and more constantly come up in the Notary community. And even if a signer has what appears to be a valid ID, how do you know it’s real?

A recent face-matching research survey involving more than 1,150 Notaries found that they failed to spot imposters about 28 percent of the time. And about 20 percent of the time, the survey-takers thought people were imposters when they were not. Given all this, verifying the identity of signers is far more challenging than simply asking to see their ID. Yet the point of a notarization is for you to certify that your signers are who they say they are. By understanding the different challenges, you will be in a much better position to protect the signer, the public and yourself.

Is The ID Fake Or Real?

Glenn Garrity, founder of the Southern California-based G2 Identity Management, noted that 49 percent of all identity theft crimes involve the use of fake IDs. In Connecticut, so many fake IDs were coming into the state that some grocery stores started asking customers buying alcohol for back-up identification, according to media reports.

Garrity noted that scam artists are getting savvier. He has seen cases where scammers in California, for example, use fake IDs supposedly from the East Coast. “They rely on the fact that you won’t be as familiar with those IDs.”

While Notaries should be familiar with the IDs issued by their state, he suggested keeping the latest edition of the I.D. Checking Guide on hand. The book, which is updated every year, includes descriptions and sample images of driver’s licenses and ID cards issued in the U.S. and Canada, as well as U.S. federal IDs. It also notes the security elements — such as holograms, UV images and microprinting — that appear on the IDs.

To spot a fake ID, Garrity recommends that you take the ID in hand so you can feel the texture and tactile elements, and notice any unusual features. Then look for the right security features. Compare the photo and description with your signer. You can ask questions. Garrity said that scammers probably will know the fake date of birth, but not always their zodiac sign. Or ask for the name of a major cross street at their address.

Are You An Imposter?

Perhaps the hardest task in checking a person’s identity is matching the ID photo to the person in front of you. “It’s incredibly difficult to match a face to a photo ID,” said Megan Papesh, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Louisiana State University, who conducted the face-matching survey mentioned above.

Dr. Papesh noted that cross-cultural differences are particularly challenging. People have a much harder time accurately identifying individuals from another culture or race. As imperfect as matching faces to ID photos is, she said, there isn’t a better way to identify people at present because reliable facial recognition technology is not available. She offered some suggestions to minimize the risk of missing an imposter.

Features such as hair and weight can change, so Dr. Papesh recommended focusing on features that don’t change much, such as the size and shape of a person’s ears, nose, mouth and eyes. Examine the nose line or general size and shape of the chin. The distance between the nose, mouth and chin also can be revealing. But don’t just stick to one set of features. “What works when checking some individuals will not work for others,” Dr. Papesh said. “It’s a good idea to check a few features without getting tripped up by hair, weight and skin shade.”

The ‘Reasonable Person’ Standard

To some, it may seem as though Notaries are expected to be experts at verifying identities. In fact, given the sheer mass of identity-related issues in the world, it might seem that you have to be experts to carry out your duties. But that’s not the case. For the most part, Notaries are expected to take the same steps that a reasonable person would take in performing their duties, including verifying signers’ identities.

“Verifying identity is not an exact science,” said Bill Anderson, the NNA’s Vice President of Government Affairs. “This is an area where the Notary needs to exercise the most judgment.” Notaries can compare a signer to the ID photo and the physical description. They can compare the signature on the ID to that on the document. But it is still a judgment call.

Because there are so many potential gray areas, Anderson emphasized the need to take reasonable steps when making a judgment. He recommended an identity-vetting protocol for Notaries incorporating three best practices:

  1. Look for suspicious circumstances: Is the signer trying to rush you or distract you from your normal procedures? Is the signer explaining why their signatures might not match or why they don’t look like their ID photo? “A little common sense goes a long way,” Anderson said.
  2. Examine the ID: Look at the ID closely and check the various security features, such as the ghost images, microprinting and raised lettering. Have an ID guide handy for out-of-state IDs.
  3. Match the ID to the signer: Instead of looking at hair, weight and other changeable features, focus on features that don’t change as much, such as the shape and position of ears, the nose, the mouth and the eyes. “By following these steps you can clearly explain your method of reasonably verifying signers’ identity,” he said.

Dr. Papesh offered another suggestion to the protocols: Take your time. “Most of the time when people make a really critical error in checking someone’s ID, it’s because they inconvenience the person whose ID they are checking,” she said. “They let something go. So it’s important to take more time.”

Michael Lewis is Managing Editor of member publications for the National Notary Association.


5 Sound Practices That Steer You Clear Of Lawsuits And Costly Errors

1. Always Require Personal Appearance

Before you can notarize someone’s signature, the signer must personally appear before you. Almost every state defines that as face-to-face, in the same room. That’s the only way you can verify that your signers are who they say they are, signing of their own free will and fully aware of what’s happening.

[Note: Virginia and Montana allow the personal appearance requirement to be satisfied remotely with an audio-video conference over the internet. Texas and Nevada have enacted laws authorzing remote online notarizations that take effect July 1, 2018.]

Newer Notaries are often tripped up by this requirement, especially when a signer asks them to make ‘just one exception’. But you need to stick to your guns. Be pleasant and straightforward when you tell your client that all signers must appear in the flesh, at the time of the notarization, and not before or after — but be firm.

2. Master Identification Requirements

Most states provide guidelines on what constitutes acceptable ID from a signer, so make sure you’re familiar with them. Some states, like Florida and California, list the specific identification documents Notaries may accept in state law. Other states permit Notaries to accept any ID that meets state requirements — for example, Texas allows Notaries to accept an ID issued by the federal or any state government that is current and includes the person’s photo and signature. Check your official Notary handbook, if your state publishes one. NNA members also can check the online U.S. Notary Reference Manual.

Once you’re clear on which IDs you may accept, always be careful during notarizations to confirm the information on the ID matches your signer’s description — such as eye color and height. And be alert for any discrepancies. Take your time. The NNA Hotline is available to help with any questions.

3. Avoid Pressure to ‘Rush’

Even experienced Notaries can get rattled when asked to notarize a large number of signatures by a signer or employer who’s stressed and in a hurry. But when you rush, it’s easy to miss a basic step that can invalidate the notarization and even lead to legal or financial consequences later on.

“Make sure you do not allow signers to hurry you at any point,” advises Arizona NSA Kathy Fletcher, the NNA 2013 Notary of the Year. “As a Notary you must be in control. I always check each document after each page is signed and once again before I leave the signer’s location. This universally decreases errors.”

4. Scan And Complete The Certificate Properly

When completing the certificate, make sure all the details are correct. You also should scan the document in order to:

  • Check for blank spaces. Some states mandate there are no blanks on a document and other states just strongly recommend it.
  • Note any details (such as the document title) that your state requires recording in your journal entry.

Scanning the document does not mean reading it for details. Just glance over it sufficiently to get the information you need.

5.  Know How To Handle ‘Emotional’ Signers

Many notarizations can involve stressful situations, especially if the documents involve major financial transactions for your signers — such as deeds, mortgages, trusts and powers of attorney. Any little glitch or speed bump can make signers upset.

“We get a lot of Hotline calls about the elderly parent who suddenly becomes catastrophically ill, and there’s no power of attorney in place,” says Patti Wulfestieg, the NNA’s Manager, Hotline and Compliance. “The grown children are usually desperate to get the paperwork notarized before it’s too late.”

While that’s understandable, if the parent is not aware or able to communicate clearly, you have no choice but to refuse to complete the notarization. Some may become upset and frustrated by your refusal. “Some even may become belligerent,” Wulfestieg says.

“When I get rude or anxious clients, I immediately put a calming strategy in place,” says Laura Biewer, an NNA seminar instructor and a traveling Notary. Among her tips:

  • Slow down and allow several minutes for settling in and getting everyone comfortable.
  • Listen more than you think you need to, make eye contact and smile often.
  • Acknowledge your client’s emotions by saying something like, “I understand how this makes you feel.” Be extra sensitive to the stresses that they may be experiencing.

Paying close attention to your signer and communicating calmly and openly about any confusion can allay anxieties and ensure a successful and pleasant appointment.

Additional Resources:

Notary Lawsuit Protection

Notary Essentials


Notaries Earn Extra Income Serving As A Remote Testimony Witness

As mobile Notaries look to expand their business offerings, more and more are discovering that witnessing court-mandated telephone hearings for non-criminal cases can be a lucrative service.

“Over the past year, I’ve received many requests to witness court-mandated telephone hearings,” said Florida Notary Herbert Guinup, who witnesses mostly child custody and support cases. For this service, Guinup charges a flat fee of $30 for the first hour, and $20 for every half hour after that.

Many small claims court judges are permitting testimony over the phone if a witness cannot be present for a variety of reasons, such as illness or disability, being out of state, or unable to take time from work. Some courts are requiring individuals to seek Notaries or other public officials in order to properly identify and swear them in for court proceedings.

How Do Telephone Depositions Work?

The process varies depending on the rules of your state, the court or circumstance. But generally the court sets up a conference call, which begins by having the Notary identify the individual providing testimony. The Notary may be asked to remain on the line with the individual throughout their testimony, serving as a witness.

In Florida, for example, Notaries are permitted to administer an oath or affirmation and confirm the identity of a witness for testimonies taken by telephone. State law requires the Notary to be physically present with the witness to administer the oath (oaths administered over the telephone with the Notary in one location and the oath-taker in another are not allowed). A Florida Notary also must file written certification with the presiding court officer confirming the identity of the witness and that the affirmation or oath was administered.

Florida law allows Notaries to charge $10 per notarial act, in this case to administer the oath. Since Florida law does not stipulate fees for witnessing the testimony, Notaries may set their own fees for this additional service. On top of that, a travel fee may be charged.

Florida also provides the basic language a Notary should use when administering the oath or affirmation of a witness.

Currently, there are 32 states that do not have any rules or regulations about telephone depositions, according to the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). But that does not necessarily mean they cannot take place in those states.

In those states, the NCRA strongly recommends that the witness be “sworn in by a duly authorized oathgiver who was in the presence of the witness.” A Notary would certainly fit that description.

See the NCRA to find out if your state has rules for telephone depositions.

Be Prepared

Notaries are the ideal candidates for this role because they are state-appointed public officials whose duty is to serve as impartial witnesses to any number of transactions. Identifying signers and administering oaths and affirmations are also part of their duties.

If you are asked to take part in a telephone deposition, here are a few tips for making sure it goes smoothly:

  • Be clear on the exact nature of the services you are being asked to perform. Law in most states allows Notaries to administer an oath for a deposition. However, some states, such as Nevada, have repealed the authority of a Notary to “take” the deposition — that is, recording the testimony and transcribing it — or require a Notary to have additional credentials.
  • Always have your Notary commission information with you, as it is likely to be requested by the court.
  • Follow all state Notary laws or guidelines when it comes to properly identifying the witness.
  • If you are required to administer an oath or affirmation, be sure the language you use complies with your state’s requirements, and that the witness replies aloud so their responses can be properly recorded.
  • Know the fees state law allows you to charge for taking part in a deposition and when you can charge additional fees for ancillary services not specifically prescribed by law. Most states have maximum fees you may charge for administering an oath, but not for services such as “witnessing” the testimony and travel fees.

22 Ways To Make Money As A Notary

Updated 10-10-17. “How can I make money as a Notary?” That’s one of the most common questions I hear from Notaries.

Whether you’re a new Notary or a seasoned signing agent, here is a list of things you can do right now to boost your brand, make yourself known to more customers and earn more money as a Notary:

1. Tell people that you are a Notary.

This sounds so simple, but if you were to survey half the people you encounter each day, many of them do not know that you are a Notary who can help them.

2. Have promotional pens made and and hand them out to bank tellers, post office clerks, insurance agents, financial advisors, FedEx/UPS personnel, restaurant staff, grocery cashiers and everywhere else you visit that sees a large group of people during the day that can use your service.

You will be surprised at how much business you will receive by doing this.

3. Attend networking meetings in your area.

Business and trade events are excellent opportunities to promote your Notary commission with other professionals.

4. Join your local Chamber of Commerce and volunteer to be on the Membership Committee.

Attending Chamber of Commerce meetings regularly adds credibility to your business and your branding strategy. I would highly recommend attending Ribbon Cutting Events for new businesses opening in your area. This will allow you to welcome the new business owners to the area and gives you yet another opportunity to share your services.

5. Provide free notarizations for the local high school athletics department.

It keeps your business in the minds of your community and affects the civic-minded parents in your area.

6. Perform free notarizations for the American Legion and VFW members in your area.

This is just a great way to give back to veterans and local leadership.

7. Organize a community shred day.

I am currently organizing one of these, and I’m surprised at how many people have expressed an interest in participating. (National Shred Days raise awareness to identity fraud.)

8. Co-sponsor financial literacy seminars with banks, real estate agents, financial advisors and wealth managers.

This is a lot easier than you might think. Simply contact a business professional in these areas to host the event. You do all the (social media) marketing and they provide the expertise. This will be a win-win for all that involved.

9. Offer seminars about identity theft.

As Notaries, we are experts in our local area when it comes to identity, and this allows you to build an “expert” reputation in your community.

10. Before and during every holiday, advertise on social media that you are available for notarizations.

Whether it’s Columbus Day, Labor Day, President’s Day or others, and all the banks and credit unions are closed. Usually on holidays, I receive the largest volume of calls for notarizations because people simply can’t find anyone else.

11. Network with your local UPS and FedEx store managers.

At this time, FedEx stores are not offering Notary services, and many UPS stores only offer limited service. After receiving referrals, I have conducted Notary assignments for each.

12. Have logo shirts made and wear them to community events.

This is a great way to advertise that you are in the Notary business.

13. Join a Notary professional organization.

Joining an organization like the NNA offers opportunities to stay in touch with the latest changes in the industry and new marketing prospects.

14. Network with other Notaries in your neighboring communities.

This is one of the most important things you can do to build your business. Professional Notaries network with other Notaries in surrounding towns in order to build their clientele.

15. Post a profile on Notary websites.

Doing this is like broadcasting your business with a megaphone to clients who use Notaries on a regular basis. is an excellent example of a website where professional Notaries can post their profile. Make sure to include a professional picture in your profile when possible.

16. Find a mentor.

Having a business mentor will not only help you make more money as a Notary, but will also help keep you from making major business mistakes.

17. Become a mentor to another Notary.

I have personally grown as a professional after becoming a mentor, and this role has helped me build a more holistic, well-integrated business.

18. Develop a business page on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and invite people to your page.

This is extremely important to your business. It will build your professional network and can drive your business into increased profits and success. Feel free to invite me to your pages.

19. Follow up with your existing customers.

This is an often overlooked must-do, but maintaining and managing relationships with your existing customers is one key to your success.

20. Attend professional development conferences and workshops.

I attended my first National Notary Association Conference several years ago in Las Vegas, and have attended every one since. I cannot stress how important it is to be in attendance each and every year to learn from the very best in the industry. It has helped me to grow my business and partner with some of the best in the field. What you will learn at these events will eliminate years of struggling as a notary entrepreneur.

21. Start accepting credit cards as payment.

Accepting all forms of payment opens more doors and revenue streams for your Notary business.

22. Place a large sign or Notary logo on your car for your business.

Notaries around the country frequently do this and report great successes.

Implementing just a few of these techniques is well worth the effort and will help you strategically grow your business.

Mobile Notary Tip: Getting Repeat Business

As a professional mobile Notary, it is extremely important to earn repeat customers — including title companies, signing services, local attorneys, hospitals and consumers. This affects the very core of your business.

Repeat customers are known to spend more over the long run than first time customers and can become great advocates for your business. A steady flow of repeat customers can also help keep your marketing budget within sensible means.

Building A Loyal Customer Base

In order to maintain that steady flow of repeat customers, it helps to invest time and energy into building your reputation through customer service and some commonsense activities. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Know what’s important to your customer. Each customer is different. Some customers, for example, want a lot of communication via text while others want all communication to take place via a website. If you don’t know already, find out what you can do to make your customer’s job a little easier.
  2. Ask for a glowing review. If you are doing great work for a company and they are constantly using your service, sometimes it is as easy as simply asking if they would do a review for you.
  3. Write a glowing review about the companies you want a review from. I have interviewed several scheduling managers from title as well as signing companies. The great ones read reviews of their companies at least once or twice a month. If one of your clients is treating you well, giving you lots of assignments and paying you in a timely manner, write a glowing review about them. You would be surprised at how many glowing reviews about your service will pop up everywhere.
  4. Build great professional networks. Under the right circumstances, this is a great way to get referral customers. If you spend the time to network and build professional relationships with businesses in your community, they will refer their customers to you. I have notarized documents in post offices, shipping and photocopy stores, banks, hospitals and more all from referrals from these companies.
  5. Sponsor a charity event in your area. Every year a group of Notaries in my area sponsors an event where the general public donates to a local food bank. We advertise this on social media pages as well as on our websites. This is a great way to give back to your community and standout in your profession as a business leader. People want to do business with not only great businesses but with great people. I have personally received referrals from clients who have told me that they love our community consciousness.

Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton once said, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” Staying connected with your customers and understanding their “customer experience” will play an important part in building a stable business that you can be proud of.

Daniel Lewis of Carmel, Indiana, is the founder of Lewis Notary Services Inc., a nationwide mobile service. He also teaches Notary best practices and is a former NNA Notary of the Year.