What if the document was forged.
Imagine that you are a notary public who just got in huge trouble for notarizing a forged document. It is not your responsibility to know that the document was forged. It is only your responsibility to know that the person who was documented as signing the document appeared before you, proved their identity, and signed the document before you notarized it.
Or what if the ID used for the notarization was forged? You can still take journal thumbprints and that can get you off the legal hook a lot faster if you keep a record of those thumbprints. But, what about a forged notary seal?
E&O won’t help unless you made an error.
Some notaries think that since they have Errors & Omissions insurance that they will be covered. But, does E&O cover legal expenses? The real problem is that E&O will probably say that the notary didn’t make any errors — it was someone else who forged their seal. Therefore it is a criminal matter, and the notary in question is not at fault — providing you can prove that the notary seal indeed was forged.
If your notary seal was forged, how would you prove it?
My notary seal’s impression was copied onto an Acknowledgment form. The notary’s handwriting on the form didn’t match mine at all and they didn’t cross out the his/her/their or the (s) on the certificate either proving that they were not me, and most likely not a notary (at least not a good notary.) If the borders on the seal don’t match yours, that is another clue. If you don’t have a journal entry of the transaction, that might void the notarization entirely in certain states — not sure what the law says about that one. But, it could constitute proof that you didn’t do the notarization in question if there is no journal entry, assuming that you always keep a sequential journal entry of all notarial transactions.
What if you are sued?
Unfortunately, as a notary, if you are sued for fraud, or being involved with fraud, you could lose $20,000 in legal expenses only to be proven innocent. You lose, even if you win. E&O insurance won’t protect you if you are not at fault. So, if you are falsely accused because someone else did fraud including a seal forger, a corrupt Title Officer, or someone else, you can get in big trouble. It is best to try to reason with the plaintiff and prove to them through whatever evidence that you have that you are not one of the parties to be blamed. You can also tell them that you will counter sue for legal expenses and time lost if proven not guilty.
Identifying the fraud
One of the issues in catching a fraudulent impostor notary is that they are hard to catch. The only people who have seen them would be notary customers. Those customers would have found the person’s number online or in the yellow pages or through a referral. Notary clients very rarely check the ID of the notary, so the notary could be an impostor and get away with it for a while without being caught. But, why would an impostor notarize many people. Chances are that the impostor notary would be well acquainted with the individual who forged loan documents, or could be the same person which means that nobody would see him or catch him. If he forged the signature of the borrower as well, then it gets very complicated. Three forgeries in one! If they forge a notary seal, the forged seal might have the name of a real notary on it. In such a case, the real notary would be able to prove through his journal that he never notarized that forged document. Additionally, the forger would have to not only forge the signature of the borrower, but also of that particular notary which would require quite some skill. I always used an embosser that left a raised seal in the document. A fraud would have to be pretty clever to forge my seal and my embosser and use it like I did — and in the one case where my seal was forged, they didn’t have the brains to do it correctly and got caught (but, not necessarily prosecuted – or at least I was not informed of what happened after the fact.)