Becoming a notary in California might not seem like the hugest deal. After all, the process to get a commission to be a notary public in California is relatively easy. You take the course (you can even take it online), fill out a few forms, pay for a stamp and a bond, and boom! You’re good to go!
The truth is that being a California notary is a big deal. This should be apparent by the volume of strict rules you have to follow. If you have any doubts about the strictness of the rules surrounding the duties of a California notary public, the severe punishments for breaking them should help drive that point home.
For example, a California notary must witness a signature in person. There has been some recent confusion surrounding this because a few notaries public in California have offered to do notarizations over the web, using webcams. Do not fall prey to this scam!
If you, as a notary in California, fix your stamp to papers that haven’t been signed in your presence, the Secretary of State can suspend or even revoke your commission. Beyond that, you’ll be facing a fine of up to $1500. That number goes up if the signatures were done fraudulently and you notarized them anyway.
Even things like failing to report the loss of your California notary public seal or stamp is a big deal. If someone finds out that you have your California notary public commission but have lost your stamp and failed to report it, you will have to pay as much as $1500 in civil fines and could wind up losing your commission altogether.
Let’s say that an officer of the court approaches you and asks to see the journal that you, as a notary public in California, are required to keep. If you don’t hand it over to him, you will be facing a misdemeanor charge and can be fined as much as $2500.
When people find out that you are a California notary, they are going to want to ask you for all sorts of legal advice. Even if you know the answer, do not give them that advice! Offering up legal advice as an official notary in California is a crime!
Yes, as a California notary public, you are an officer of the court, but that doesn’t qualify you to give legal advice. If someone finds out (for example, if someone acts on your advice and it goes badly so they name you as the person who told them what to do), you will lose your commission. You could, depending upon the situation, also be facing criminal charges.
It is important to note, though, that the majority of the penalties are only served on California notaries public who knowingly break the rules. If you truly believe you are following the rules for being a notary in California but later find out you were mistaken, that’s a different matter. It is important, when that happens, to report yourself and admit you’ve messed up and take steps to correct the situation. The legal system is much easier on a California notary who comes forward on her own. Hiding and hoping that nobody notices will make the matter much worse if (when, really) you get found out.
Being a notary public in California is a serious job, and it is important that you treat it as such. It’s also important to note that it can be an incredibly rewarding job. At the heart of what you are doing is proving that people are following the law and helping them, hopefully, do things that will make their lives better! Who doesn’t want to do that?
Erin Steiner served as a notary public in Oregon. Since then, she has written articles on everything from pop culture to small businesses to bios of businesspeople like Steve Wynn