Whether you are a newly commissioned or a veteran notary, we all can agree that the goal is to provide our customers the most pleasant and professional notary signing experience. Below are some potential tricky situations and how to handle them.
Determine if an ID is Acceptable
While there are multiple ways to verify the identify of a signer depending on the state you reside in, most notaries feel that asking the signer to appear in person and present a valid form of identification is still the safest and preferred method. Acceptable forms of identification include a current driver’s license (out of state is fine as long as the notarization is being performed in the state that you are commissioned in). Other acceptable forms include a valid US Passport or green card with photo, military ID. Unacceptable forms include expired licenses or passports, social security card, birth certificate, work badges, or a government issued non-photo card of any kind, -just to name a few. For valid ID’s, the photo should match (within reason) the appearance of the person who is appearing before you. Also check the birthdate and confirm whether it matches the assumed age of the signer. The signature on the identification should also match the signature used to sign the documents. One quick way to spot fraud is to ask the signer for their birthday while you are holding their ID. If they stumble, that’s a huge red flag. If you have any doubts that the person appearing before you is not who they claim to be, you are well within your right and should refuse service.
How to Handle Name Discrepancies
You may encounter a signer who has a misspelling, different spelling, nickname or anything else where the name on the document doesn’t match the name on their ID. In this case, you should ask the signer to produce an alternate form of identification with the version of their name that appears on the document. This is your safest bet, however, if the signer cannot produce alternate identification, you should postpone the notarization until the signer can have the document corrected.
How to Use Your Notary Stamp/Seal
Your notary stamp should always be in your possession. Like your notary journal, your stamp should also be stored in a safe and secure place when not in use. A notary impression, whether it is written or stamped is required every time you provide a notarization. When using your stamp, make sure the document is flat on a surface. Hold the stamp down a couple of seconds with your thumb and fingers and not with the palm of your hand. Quickly press down and release. The notary impression should appear clear and free of smudges, or the document can be rejected. It is recommended that you practice using your stamp at home so you can get a feel for it and know how it behaves. Just make sure you shred any documents you used when practicing.
To clean your stamp, use clear tape to grab any dust or other fibers from the raised letter surface of your stamp. If you stamp comes with a removable cover, be sure to replace the cover immediately after using your stamp. To re-ink your stamp, you may want to consider oil-based ink. Any other type of ink may damage your stamp and smudge impressions. If you have a self-inking stamp, use the correct replacement ink cartridges or follow specific instructions to add ink to the pad yourself.
The National Notary Association has a great video on how to use a notary stamp. Here it is:
How to Fix a Bad Stamp/Seal impression
You should never try to fix a bad seal or stamp impression. The document may be rejected or flagged as potential fraud. The solution to correct a bad impression is a simple one. You can just affix a second seal near the first one but never over it. As mentioned earlier, one way to prevent imperfect seals is to practice using your stamp at home.
Avoid Unauthorized Practice of Law
Unauthorized practice of law means offering legal advice without being a licensed attorney. It’s against the law for notaries who are not attorneys to provide certain kinds of advice and services. There are serious consequences including hefty fines, loss of commission and even criminal conviction. It is so important to familiarize yourself with your specific state notary laws and understand what services fall under the unauthorized practice of the law; and how to avoid them. Always remember, your job is to verify the identity of the signer and administer the appropriate notarial act. You are not there to give your opinion or advice regarding the documents you’re notarizing. A closed mouth is a safe mouth in these situations.
For more information about notary signings, National Paralegal & Notary is able to provide document support. When you get the chance, review our Document Signing Services page.
By: Kim Jones