WWYD: The Case Of The Unidentifiable Signer-Your Answers

Scarf Woman

Last month, we posed the scenario of the Unidentifiable Signer, in which a nicely dressed woman approached you for a notarization, and provided an ID with a photo that didn’t bear much of a resemblance to the person in front of you. She explained that she’d recently lost weight and dyed her hair, but you were still skeptical. The question is: What do you do? Do you complete the notarization despite concerns about her ID, or do you find another way to identify the signer?

Our Facebook Community provided great answers, including New Jersey Notary Betty Lu Mitchell who said she’d request a more recent ID. Several Notaries said they would go through with the notarization if the signer could produce two credible witnesses, which is an acceptable practice in some states, but not all.

“I had (a signing) with a woman who had lost 100 pounds since her driver license photo was taken,” shared New Jersey Notary Michael Harris. However, his signer showed him photos of herself throughout her weight loss progress, which helped convince him she was who she claimed to be, despite changes in her appearance. This was acceptable, as the state of New Jersey doesn’t have any specific identification requirements.

Here’s what Bill Anderson, NNA Vice President of Legislative Affairs, had to say on the topic of identifying signers:

As with many scenarios, your best course of action depends on your state’s notarial laws.

In Florida and California, satisfactory evidence of identity means the absence of any suspicious circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe the signer is not who he or she claims to be. If you have reasonable suspicions that the person is not who she claims to be, ask your signer for another form of state-approved ID. If there are no other suspicious circumstances, you may proceed with the notarization.

In states where identification is required, the woman’s ID still might be acceptable despite the differences in appearance. Take all of the evidence on the card into account, not just the photo. Is the person’s height reasonably the same as on the ID? Does the signature reasonably resemble the signature on the ID even if there is a large discrepancy in weight?

Another consideration is that many states do not require the Notary to identify the signer of a jurat. In such cases, if the request is legal, you should perform the notarization, because identification is not technically required.

While concerns about forgery are paramount, particularly when dealing with transactions such as real estate deeds, mortgages, deeds of trust, last wills, or powers of attorney, refusing a notarization also can cause adverse results. You need to demonstrate that you have taken reasonable steps to verify a signer’s identity and have refused service because the signer couldn’t meet the requirements.

One Final Note On Safety

In any situation in which a signer becomes hostile or you fear for your safety, the safest thing to do is notarize the document and then call authorities later. You should never jeopardize your own safety over a notarization.

Kelle Clarke is a Contributing Editor with the National Notary Association.


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