How Notaries Can Help Deter Identity Theft

Millions of people are victims of identity theft every year, and this trend shows no sign of abating. Skilled criminals continually look for new, increasingly sophisticated ways to commit fraud. As a notary public, you are part of the first line of defense against identity theft. Your notary work is crucial to protecting yourself and the public from criminals.

Take the following steps to ensure you not only perform your notarial duties correctly but also prevent identity theft, fraud, financial scams, forgeries, and other criminal activity. 

  1. Notarize in the presence of the signer. Always perform your notarizations in the presence of the signer. This is the most fundamental part of any notarization and perhaps the most effective way to deter criminals. Identity theft is less likely to be committed when a document is signed in your presence.
  2. Properly identify the signer. After requiring the signer's personal appearance, the next vital action is to identify the individual correctly. Carefully examine the signer’s identification, such as a state-issued driver’s license, passport, or military ID. Compare the photo and physical attributes stated on the ID with the signer. Do not proceed with the notarization if you think the signer is using fraudulent identification.
  3. Review the document. An essential part of any notarization is reviewing the document for blank spaces. An incomplete document is like a blank check because a criminal can fill in the blank spaces later. Furthermore, never backdate notarial certificates under any circumstances. This is illegal and unethical. If it is discovered that you have backdated a notarial certificate, you could be held responsible for any criminal activity involving that document.
  4. Secure your notary seal  and journal. Your notary journal and  notary stamp are essential components of your notary profession. They should always be under your exclusive control. Never enter a signer’s social security number, identification number, DOB or thumbprint in your journal unless your state notary laws require it. The journal is a public record that anyone can view, and a criminal could use such information to commit identity theft or fraud. Always keep the journal secure when you aren’t using it. Safeguarding your notary seal is just as critical. Criminals could use your seal to falsely notarize documents, thereby putting you and the public at risk.
  5. Protect your customers’ data from cybersecurity threats. Today, protecting your customers’ data from cybersecurity threats is vital. This is especially true if you’re a remote online notary. There are several ways to protect data (including email addresses, phone numbers, signatures, copies of identification, and social security numbers). One is to encrypt essential documents that can only be accessed using a password that only you and relevant parties know.  Use long passwords with upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.  Don’t use public Wi-Fi or put sensitive documents in the cloud, which can be vulnerable. Never open suspicious emails or attachments, as these can contain links that hackers use to access your information and identity. Lastly, use multi-factor authentication on all your devices to protect yourself optimally.
  6. Do not delegate your notary work to others. You are responsible for every facet of your notary work. This includes tasks like dropping off a mortgage packet containing the signer's personal information. Delegating these tasks to someone else exposes the signer to identity theft.
  7. Report criminal activity to law enforcement and the proper authorities. Identity theft and other criminal activity can still occur despite your best efforts. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to protect yourself. Report incidents to local law enforcement agencies and the proper authorities, such as the Federal Trade Commission.

As a notary, you play an essential role in deterring identity theft and other forms of crime. Verifying a signer’s identity and confirming he or she understands the contents of a document before signing it go a long way in protecting you and the public from harm. You can keep yourself safe if you remain vigilant and take the steps outlined here.

Legal Disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries is committed to providing accurate and up-to-date information. However, it is important to note that the information provided on this page is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. We do not claim to be attorneys and do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information provided. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate notary laws governing your state. You should always seek the advice of a licensed attorney for any legal matters. In no event shall the American Association of Notaries, its employees, or contractors be liable to you for any claims, penalties, losses, damages, or expenses, howsoever arising, including, and without limitation, direct or indirect loss, or consequential loss, out of or in connection with the use of the information contained on any of the American Association of Notaries website pages. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of their state’s notary authorities or attorneys if they have legal questions. 

Notary bonds and errors and omissions insurance policies provided by this insurance agency, American Association of Notaries, Inc., are underwritten by Western Surety Company, Universal Surety of America, or Surety Bonding Company of America, which are subsidiaries of CNA Surety.