Keeping your notary stamp safe and secure should be a top priority for all notaries. As a public officer of your state performing official notarial acts for important transactions, it is imperative that you retain your notary stamp in your possession at all times. If it is lost or stolen, someone could use it to commit fraud and you could be held responsible for negligence. This would result in serious consequences such as fines or losing your notary commission, not to mention costly legal fees. To prevent any of this from happening, the ANN recommends all notaries follow the steps listed below to protect themselves:
1- Tag your notary stamp with your information.
This is a great way to help ensure your notary stamp gets returned to you. If you forget your stamp at the site of a notarization, or if it happens to fall out of your bag, a tag with your name and phone number will make it easy for people to find you and return your stamp to you. In fact, we recommend putting tags on your notary journal and other notary supplies. This just adds an extra layer of security to your notary supplies and belongings.
2- Do not delegate notarization responsibilities to others.
Allowing an employee, a coworker, a friend, or a family member to borrow your notary stamp or notarize documents on your behalf is illegal and unethical. As a commissioned notary, you are responsible for all notarial acts that bear your name, signature, and notary stamp. In other words, you are the only person who is officially authorized to perform notarizations and other notarial acts. If someone else does so using your notary stamp, you could be charged with committing fraud or be subject to other consequences.
3- Don’t leave your notary stamp unattended.
Keep your notary stamp with you at all times. Never leave it unattended. Even when you are performing a notarial act at your home, your office, or a business, do not leave your notary stamp on your desk or on your customer’s desk. It doesn’t matter if you need to briefly leave the room to answer a private call or get something from your car. Take the notary stamp and record book with you or lock them in a secured case or drawer. If you leave your notary stamp unattended, it can easily be used by an unscrupulous person to commit fraud. It only takes a couple of seconds for someone to steal or use it. If you are a mobile notary, store your notary stamp in a locked case that is hidden in your car. Don’t leave your stamp visible inside; someone could break in and steal it. To be extra cautious, don’t leave anything valuable visible in the car that might entice a criminal. This reduces the chance that your notary stamp (or notary journal) will be stolen.
4- Store your notary stamp in a secure location.
It is critical that you store your notary stamp securely in a place to which no one else has access. For example, a locked drawer or safe are good options. Just be sure not to leave the drawer key unattended or tell anyone the number combination for the safe. States have different rules regarding the storage of notary stamps and tools. California, for example, requires notaries to store these items in a safe or locked drawer. Always follow your state laws.
5- Destroy your notary stamp when your notary commission ends.
If you decide to resign or not renew your notary commission, it is just as important to destroy your notary stamp as it is to keep it safe and secure during the notary commission term. States rules differ with regard to expired notary stamps. Some states have guidelines on how to properly dispose of notary stamps, while others require the notary stamps to be returned to them. Some have no guidelines. Always follow your state laws regarding disposing of notary seals. Keep in mind an expired notary stamp or notary seal can be used in the wrong hands to commit fraud. Even if you decide to renew your notary commission, follow your state guidelines on how to properly destroy your expired notary stamp. Click here to read our article on how to safely destroy your notary stamp and notary seal.
6- Never leave your notary stamp with your employer.
Notary stamps are the sole property of the notary. When working as a notary public under an employer, a notary must be mindful that the employer has no legal right to use, control, or keep the employee’s notary stamp, even if the employer paid for it. If an employer insists on retaining an employee’s notary seal, record book, and/or commission, the notary should provide a copy of the state notary law to the employer. If the employer still refuses to surrender the materials, the notary should report this to the notary commissioning authorities. Make sure to send a copy of the letter or email to your employer.
7- Report lost notary stamps.
Contact your Secretary of State’s office immediately when you lose your notary stamp. Describe how you lost it and include any relevant information. You should also file a police report about when and where you think you lost the stamp and when your notary commission expires. When the police report is completed, send a copy of it to your public notary administrator.
8- Order a new stamp.
Follow your state laws before ordering a replacement notary stamp. Some states require notaries to apply for a new notary commission, whereas others require a new notary commission number to be issued before ordering a new notary stamp. If your state has no laws regarding lost notary stamps, the recommended approach is to order a new notary stamp with a slight variation on your old notary stamp impression. These changes don’t need to be drastic, but you certainly want to differentiate the new stamp from the old one. You could even use a new ink color if your state notary laws allow that. Also, when you start using the new notary stamp, make a notation in your notary journal indicating the date you started using the new notary stamp.
9- Order a notary errors and omissions insurance policy.
These inexpensive notary insurance policies are your first line of defense. If someone sues you over a notarization that you did not perform, your notary E&O insurance policy will pay your legal expenses. These reasonably priced policies are available with different coverage limits, ranging from $5,000 to $200,000. Please note, notary errors and omissions insurance policies only cover unintentional errors and omissions by the notary.
As long as you follow these steps, you will be sure to minimize your liability and keep your notary stamp safe and secure. As always, refer to your state’s notary laws for specific guidelines about notary stamps.
By Evelin Garcia, a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries, Inc.