Verifying the identity of signers arguably is one of a Notary’s most important duties. The scenario we posed last week, in which a female signer wears a head covering in accordance with her religious beliefs that prevents you from seeing her face. That presents a challenge: As much as you want to respect her religious beliefs, how do you verify her identity if you cannot compare her ID photo to her face?
What You Said
More than 130 members of our Notary community weighed in on this issue, with many offering practical and thoughtful responses. Several commenters noted that the signer was able to show her face to have her ID photo taken, and saw that as an opening to verify her identity.
“Being mindful and respectful of religious beliefs is paramount,” wrote Najah Tamargo. “I would offer to take her into a separate room to reveal her face, or (make) any other accommodation that she would require. If she still refused, I would have to politely explain the rules and why I would not be able to complete a notarial act without being able to properly identify her.”
Notary J.D. Walker said he would take a similar approach. However, he acknowledged that she may be reluctant to go into private with him because he is a man. “I’d refer her to a female Notary in that case. The need to identify a signer must be satisfied. If she can’t show me her face to compare with the ID, then I can’t do the notarization.”
“In my state, (credible) identifying witnesses could be used for the identification, but they would need to be personally known to the Notary, which seems unlikely in this case,” noted David Gordon. “A notation as to the circumstances should also be made in the journal.”
Jolene Forzetting also suggested using two credible identifying witnesses to verify her identity, “as long as I was able to see their faces and verify their identities.”
“I would ask for alternate ID and require a thumbprint for verification,” Notary Ima wrote.
If the signer were reluctant to show her face, Notary Sandra wrote that she “would ask for a second identification and compare the signatures on both. Plus, I would request an affidavit from a (credible identifying) witness verifying the client’s identity.”
Given our multi-cultural society, situations like this are becoming more common. This scenario is a reminder that Notaries should think through how to handle such circumstances before they happen.
Many of the solutions commenters suggested are good options. However, there are limits to what you can do. Most state Notary laws describe the methods you may use to identify signers, and you cannot deviate from what the law allows.
In the actual event, the Notary had the signer swear an oath that she was the person described on the ID. Unfortunately, this is not an acceptable method of verifying the signer’s identity. The same is true of requesting a thumbprint. No state authorizes you to use a thumbprint to verify identity.
In the scenario, because the signer has a state-issued ID, you can ask what accommodations were made by the agency that took her ID photo. If you can reasonably make similar accommodations, ask if that would allow her to show you her face.
If you are a male Notary, and that is an issue for her, recommend a female Notary, as several commenters suggested.
If these options won’t work, using one or more credible identifying witnesses might — depending on the state. But make sure to follow the requirements of your state. In California and Florida, for example, identifying witnesses must swear that the signer does not have an acceptable ID. Since the Notary in this case viewed the woman’s ID, credible witnesses likely would have difficulty swearing or affirming that the woman didn’t have an acceptable ID.
If none of these options works for your signer, you’d have to refuse to perform the notarization.
Michael Lewis is Managing Editor of member publications for the National Notary Association.