It isn’t always easy for Notaries to spot someone trying to commit fraud — whether it’s mortgage fraud, deed fraud or simply elder financial abuse. Because these frauds involve high-dollar value transactions, they typically require a notarization, so scammers need to get a forged signature past the Notary.
For the fraudster, the goal is simple: to get you to skip the requirement to have the signer personally appear before you or accept the ID of an impostor.
To do this, fraudsters rely on a variety of tricks. Below we describe 5 common strategies so that you’ll be prepared to recognize them when they occur.
Trick 1: The fraudster could ask you to hurry
If your signer says, “I can’t wait; I have 5 minutes to do this,” the hope is that you will be distracted and cut corners while performing the notarization, perhaps forgetting to obtain proper identification or a signature in your journal.
Trick 2: The fraudster could ask you for a favor
Tragically, the favor often comes from someone you know. One Notary was asked by an employee to notarize her parents’ signatures on a deed conveying their home to the employee even though the parents weren’t present. The employee had forged the signatures and then obtained a loan against the property without her parents knowing it.
Trick 3: The fraudster could use charm
With this strategy, the scammer engages you in pleasant conversation to get you to drop your guard. The intent is to distract you so you won’t look carefully at a bogus ID or question a story that doesn’t quite add up.
Trick 4: The fraudster could plead with you for sympathy
One woman met a Notary at the front door and told a sob story about her husband wanting to sign loan documents but had just undergone wrist surgery and the cast on his wrist prevented him from signing like he normally did. The man was an impostor sitting in for the real husband. The Notary bought into the lie, didn’t check the man’s ID thoroughly, and his insurance policy suffered a total loss.
Trick 5: The fraudster is a respectable person in authority
A recent grand jury report out of New York City noted that Notaries were sometimes duped by “someone regarded as a respectable member of the community, such as an attorney or a police officer.” It’s hard to say no when the signer is a first responder, military servicemember or other influential individual.
A Notary’s Defense
These tricks may seem simple, but the fact is they work. You must be on your guard because you never know if the signer engaging you in friendly chitchat is just a friendly person or is trying to steal someone’s home.
Your best defense is to follow every step of a proper notarization every time. If someone tries to rush you, does things to distract you or tries to get you to skip a crucial step, slow down and make sure you do everything the right way. And don’t finish the notarization until you double-check everything.
If someone seems reluctant or in too much of a hurry, let them know they can come back when they have more time. And remind them that you can’t give them any special favors, no matter who they are or what their story is.
If you do this, you could save both yourself and a potential victim a world of trouble.
Michael Lewis is Managing Editor of member publications for the National Notary