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 seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary education, and securing their notary stamp and notary supplies. Every effort is made to provide accurate and complete information in the American Association of Notaries newsletters. However, we make no warrant, expressed or implied, and we do not represent, undertake, or guarantee that the information in the newsletter is correct, accurate, complete, or non-misleading. Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding notaries' best practices, federal laws and statutes, and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered this information from a variety of sources and do not warrant its accuracy. In no event shall the American Association of Notaries, its employees, or contractors be liable to you for any claims, penalties, loss, damage, 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 in the American Association of Notaries newsletters. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate notary laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of their states' notary authorities or attorneys in their state if they have legal questions. If a section of this disclaimer is determined by any court or other competent authority to be unlawful and/or unenforceable, the other sections of this disclaimer continue in effect.

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.