Identifying a Signer in a Face Covering

One of the keystones of notarization is the proper identification of the signer. The notary must always be totally satisfied as to the identity of the signer before proceeding with the notarization. But in today's world of mask-wearing, identifying a signer can be problematic, especially because there isn't one clear cut-and-dry solution to the problem.

As a public officer, a notary cannot discriminate on the basis of disability - and this can pose a problem when a notary is asked to notarize for a person who insists on wearing a face covering at all times due to a medical issue. While the COVID-19 pandemic has given the public legitimate reasons to wear a face covering, the notary still must be able to positively identify the signer.

You must always be satisfied that the person appearing before you is the person described on the identification presented.  If the notary is unable to positively identify the person appearing before them due to a face covering, the face covering should be temporarily removed - while observing social distancing - to allow the notary to fully identify the signer before proceeding. You may explain that the law requires you to confirm visually that an individual’s appearance matches the photo on his or her identification. If the signer is uncomfortable with this, you may want to suggest that he seek the services of a notary who personally knows him or of a remote online notary.

Regardless of the circumstances, the notary must be satisfied that the person appearing before him or her is the person he or she claims to be. The notary should be able to reasonably conclude that the individual in question is the person who is named in the document requiring notarization. If uncomfortable with this transaction, the notary may advise the individual that he or she isn’t able to proceed due to the lack of positive identification.

When these circumstances arise, a notary must always act with the utmost caution to ensure that he or she is not being discriminatory while also acting according to the laws. Keep in mind that some states have enacted temporary COVID rules that apply to notarizations, and these rules may have provisions related to face coverings. For this reason, notaries should always consult their own state's laws and commissioning authorities for specific questions regarding identification of persons who are wearing a face-covering.

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.

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