Dear California Notary Division,
I am someone who runs a Notary directory and is acutely aware of the deficiencies in Notary knowledge throughout the state and the nation. California Notaries are better than those in other states on average due to the excellent training, but the training does not cover practical aspects of the Notary profession. Additionally, there are issues with fees that need to be addressed.
As there are so many ethical violations out there among California Notaries, and misunderstanding of Notary law, it is clear that a longer and more comprehensive notary training is necessary. However, I also think that due to the incompetence out there, a few other pre-measures should be taken.
1. A IQ test should be administer to applicants. It can be a ten minute quiz. Notaries with low intelligence often bungle and misinterpret Notary laws which can lead to illegal activity and wrongful explanations to clients of what can and cannot be legally done.
2. A meticulousness test should be administered to Notaries to see if they can be orderly about conducting tasks which require multiple steps. Being a good Notary means filling out journals and forms correctly in their entirety, and a meticulous person is less likely to make errors. The majority of your Notaries are far from meticulous.
3. Following directions and ethics are some other problems that are common with California Notaries. How you test this is hard. You have to find a way to trick them into doing something right or wrong while they are being watched.
4. Preference to those with clerical, police, military, legal, mortgage, or settlement backgrounds might help attract better quality Notaries as those are professions that are normally high in terms of integrity, and clerical skills which are both critical in the Notary profession.
A single day course on Notary Public knowledge is not enough. California stresses theoretical knowledge and does not test on hands on aspects of being a Notary. When a Notary is out there in the field, they need to know how to handle various types if situations. Here are my detailed comments.
1. Oaths & Affirmations
Administer Oaths correctly and roughly half of Notaries in California do not administer Oaths at all, or not in a relevant and acceptable way. Here are some examples of irrelevant or wishy-washy Oaths.
(a) Many Notaries have the signer to swear to their personal identity rather than to the truthfulness of the document.
(b) Many Notaries make the signer swear they signed the document but not to the truthfulness of the document.
(c) It is common for Notaries use Affirm in an Oath when they should ideally use the verb swear.
(d) Many Notaries do not understand the term “administer” in the sentence “Administer an Oath to an Affiant.”
(e) Many Notaries use a court Oath for a witness asking if they swear to the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth when the document does not necessarily reflect a whole truth.
(f) It is common for Notaries not to mention the document being sworn to when administering an Oath, hence administering an Oath that is regarding thin air.
(g) Most Notaries do not know the difference between a court Oath for a witness, a document Oath and an Oath for a statement that has not been made yet.
(h) Notaries need to be taught asking “Oath questions,” such as, “Do you solemnly swear this document is true and correct?” or “Do you solemnly swear that the statement you are about to make is true and correct?” Many Notaries will ask the Oath question about the statement, get a yes, and then not have the Affiant make the actual statement. This is why an IQ test should be mandatory and a result of 95 or higher should be required. Most of the problems I have with Notaries arises from low IQ’s and bad attitudes.
The handbook makes it clear that an Affiant must swear to the truthfulness of a document. However, there is no prescribed wording or guidelines. My solution is to have prescribed components of Oaths, but no official verbiage just to keep life flexible. At a minimum, in an Oath, the Affiant must use the word “I”, and then the word “swear”, mention the foregoing document, and make reference to the fact that they feel the document is authentic or correct. Using “affirm” was asked to administer an Oath means that the Notary has overided the client’s request to have an Oath which means that the Notary chose the notary act instead of letting the entity who is paying or swearing.
2. Fill out their journal correctly
Many Notaries are unclear as to how many journal entries should be filled out if there are multiple signers signing multiple documents. The 2018 handbook does not make it clear HOW MANY journal entries are necessary if there are multiple documents per signer all using the same Notary act. This should be clarified as it is an area of common misunderstanding. One journal entry per person per document is how I was trained. Additionally, the use of arrows for repetitive information in appointments with multiple documents per signer are discouraged now from what I have heard, but the handbook does not mention this. There needs to be a SINGLE SOURCE of notary law information and that source should be the handbook and not some bulletin or blog article or other supplemental sources (although those can help teach the materials in the handbook.)
3. Understand the components of notary forms including the “Additional information” section of an Acknowledgment which might not be legally required, but deters fraud by making it very detectable if someone swaps an Acknowledgment and puts it on a different document than what was intended.
4. Many Notaries do not understand how to handle requests that are illegal or seem illegal. Many Notaries will accept illegal requests while declining acceptable requests. This is due to poor training. So, training needs to focus on handling questionable requests. Many Notaries feel it is illegal to EXPLAIN the various notary acts to clients while it is not. It is illegal to choose for them, but not to explain them as far as I know.
5. Foreign language signers are an area of misunderstanding as many Notaries are not aware that they are NOT required to understand the content of the document but ARE required to have direct communication with the signer/affiant.
6. Many Notaries are unaware that the ID does not have to exactly match the name on the document but must PROVE the name on the document. Many Notaries take liberties and will Notarize a signature that says John W Smith with an ID that says John Smith, etc. It is common for Notaries to refer to the “more than but not less than rule” which is a rule created for Title companies and not a law which states that the signer can over sign their name to include more middle initials or names, etc. However, the Notaries who remember this law often do not care if it is legal to notarize a name that is over signed. It is not clear whether you can notarized John W Smith as John Smith if the ID says only John Smith. This is another common occurrence that needs to be clarified.
7. Credible Witness law is a little bit complicated and perhaps should be simplified. Most Notaries are unaware that the handbook states that the credible witness is the entity who has to swear to the fact that he/she believes that the signer cannot easily obtain an ID. Since the Notary has OFTEN seen an ID with the wrong name on it, how can the Notary ACCEPT an Oath from a credible witness that the Notary knows to be based on false information or made fraudulently regarding how the signer cannot find an ID? This law about CW is convoluted and a source of a lot of trouble. Close to NONE of your Notaries would be able to recite these laws by memory. Therefor, I suggest simplifying it because most notaries cannot learn it properly and the CW rules are convoluted and make no sense. Here is my idea of a better set of rules.
(a) A Notary can use the Oaths of two credible witnesses to identify a signer.
(b) The credible witnesses must either be immediate family members or know the signer intimately enough so they know his/her middle names without being reminded. (The law for how well you have to know the signer to be a CW is convoluted, wishy-washy, and useless currently.)
(c) The Oath for the credible witness should be, “I solemnly swear that the signer in front of me is legally named _____.”
(d) A CW can be used regardless of whether the signer has ID or not as names on ID do not always reflect the whole, complete or current name of a signer.
(e) A journal thumbprint must accompany all Notary acts done involving credible witnesses.
(f) The CW must not have any beneficial or financial interest in the document being signed.
8. Acknowledgment confusion.
(a) Box at top of page
Many Notaries get confused by the information in the box at the top of an Acknowledgment. Many Notaries feel that the signer does not have to verify the validity of the document where it says clearly that the Notary does not have to. It is better to clarify this point as many Notaries are lacking the gift of logical thinking which can cause a lot of confusion.
(b) Perjury clause in Acknowledgments
Many Notaries feel that the signer is signing under the penalty of perjury in an Acknowledgment where it is clear that it is the Notary who is filling out the form correctly under the penalty of perjury. This point is widely misunderstood and needs to be elaborated since there are so many who cannot think logically about this point.
(c) Notaries are often unclear about whether the signer has to sign in their presence. Since the signer must personally appear, Notaries misinterpret this to mean that the signer must sign while they personally appear which is not true in California. The signer can sign ten years ago, but cannot be notarized until they appear.
(d) Notaries are often unclear about who is acknowledging what in an acknowledgment. Many thing that the Notary is acknowledging that a signature is correct. This is not true. The signer needs to acknowledge that they signed a document in the presence of the Notary. This point needs to be clarified for your notaries because there is too much confusion and misinterpretation going on out there.
(e) The additional optional information on NNA forms should be REQUIRED by law on loose certificates as it deters the fraudulent switching of acknowledgments to other documents by virtue that it identifies the name of the document, number of pages, document date, signers, and more…
9. Chain of Authority.
Many Notaries work with Title companies regularly and think of the Title companies as their boss. Wrong! The state is not exactly their boss, but is the entity they have to refer to if there is a legal question. It is common for Notaries to ask Lenders and Title what they can and cannot do as a Notary. This is wrong. They will get either a wrong answer or an answer that benefits the Lender or Title both of whom have beneficial and financial interest in the documents being Notaries. This point needs to be drummed into the Notaries heads. The State of California should ideally have a Notary hotline because there are so many times when Notaries have questions about what they can and cannot do, and often late at night when help is not available. The point of a Notary is to ensure the integrity of transactions done involving signed documents. If the Notary cannot find out what the law says, then the notarization will not have any integrity. This is a very serious issue.
10. Hands On Training
Notaries take a written exam, but this is not really as important as practical matters. What is important is to have someone do hands on training and testing to see if the Notary can fill out forms, journals, administer Oaths, take thumbprints, use credible witnesses, and decipher between legal and illegal requests. A written test cannot do this.
1. Notary training should be two, three or four days long for new Notaries with a refresher every year to keep everyone serious.
2. Notaries should be trained by hand to see if they can handle requests, explain terminology and fill out forms, etc.
3. Notaries need to be audited regularly. Not only journal auditing which you are already doing (super!!!) Auditing people by pretending to be customers and asking them to do Oaths, or asking them if such and such a notarization would be legal under particular circumstances will let you know which of your Notaries are acceptable and which are criminals. It takes work, but you are a prudent organization that values integrity and I believe you will do the work.