Carelessness and dishonesty are dangerous for Notaries. Negligence can lead to a document being a rejected or a business transaction’s invalidation — or worse. Here are 4 examples of negligence and misconduct that can cost you your Notary commission — temporarily or even permanently.
1. Notarizing Without The Signer Personally Appearing
Personal appearance by the signer is a crucial part of notarizing. All states require the signer to appear before the Notary at the time of the notarization. This is true even in states that have authorized remote online notarizations. In those states, the personal appearance requirement has been redefined.
In any case, failing to require a signer to appear before you means that you have no way of knowing who actually signed the document in question, or if they did so willingly. Not only can this cost you your Notary commission, failing to require personal appearance is one of the most common reasons Notaries are sued for negligence.
2. Failing To Properly Verify The Signer’s Identity
Failing to properly identify a signer is another easy way to lose your commission. If you don’t personally know the signer, you need to ask for ID that meets the requirements of your state’s Notary laws. Most states allow Notaries to use 1 of 3 methods for checking identity — through identification cards, personal knowledge or credible identifying witnesses. California Notaries, however, are not permitted to use personal knowledge to identify signers during notarizations.
Notaries are sometimes asked to overlook ID requirements — a signer may claim to have forgotten or lost their ID, or a boss may ask you not to ask for ID to avoid inconveniencing a signer who is an important client. But if you don’t identify the signer, you’re leaving the door open to document fraud — and there are likely to be serious consequences if it turns out the signer was an imposter.
3. Falsifying Information In A Notary Certificate
Never, ever agree to enter false or incorrect information when completing a Notary certificate. It may seem harmless on the surface, but if you intentionally record false information — such as backdating when the notarization took place — you are making a fraudulent statement and may be subject to any civil or criminal penalties under your state’s laws.
4. Giving Improper Legal Advice To A Customer
Notaries are strictly prohibited by law from giving unauthorized legal advice. If you’re not a qualified attorney, you are not allowed to answer signer questions about the legal effect of their documents. Nor may you give signers advice or answer questions about legal matters, and you cannot choose what type of notarization is needed. Answering questions from signers such as “What does this section of the document mean?” or “Is this document legal in a court of law?” when you aren’t qualified to do so are easy ways to get yourself into serious trouble, including your commission potentially being suspended or revoked.
David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.