This is an interesting article.
This is an interesting article.
Originally posted in 2018
Notaries by and large do not willfully engage in any type of illegal activity or illegal notarizations. The normal types of crimes Notaries commit are due to complete ignorance of Notary procedure, Oaths, and certificates. The only serious and purposeful crime I have ever heard of a Notary associated with us committing was one that assisted someone in fraud concerning real property — and the Notary ended up in jail. Please keep in mind that Notary law is different in every state and changes all the time as well. Penalties and fines for Notary misconduct are different in each state, California being the most stringent.
Negligent vs. Willful Misconduct
In California, the penalties are much more severe for Notaries who have engaged in willful misconduct rather than just making a careless mistake or omission.
Failure to keep your seal & journal under lock and key.
In California this is very serious and is a crime. You can keep your Notary equipment in a bag with a small lock that locks the zippers together. If you are the only one with access to your car, then the trunk of your car could work as well.
Unauthorized Practice of Law
The definition of UPL differs from state to state. However, offering opinions on legal matters or offering to draft legal documents might constitute UPL. For a professional opinion — ask an Attorney!
Asking a notary to do an improper notarization.
This is a misdemeanor in California. If it involves real property, then it is much more serious. Clients might ask you to notarize their signature using a different name variation that is not documented on their identification, or put a false date. This is illegal. They would guilty for asking you to do this, and you would be guilty if you give in to their pressure. If you have driven forty minutes to a signing job, in a sense you have a beneficial interest in notarizing their document unless you have gotten your travel fee up front when you walk in the door. So, to be prudent and avoid this issue, you MUST get your travel fee BEFORE you see the document, or are informed who the signers are, or see their ID, because a conflict of interest can easily happen. If someone asks you to do something illegal, you can threaten to report them to the Secretary of State’s office. This is a serious crime and you should treat it as such.
Issuing a false certificate
A notary who signs and seals false certificates, and this could include backdated certificates would be guilty of a misdemeanor. A false Acknowledgment certificate constitutes FORGERY. Additionally, the notary public could have their commission revoked if found guilty of this crime, with an additional fine of $1500 per incident in California (fines change over time so look this up in the statues).
Failure to Identify a Credible Witness
A fine of $10,000 per incident could occur if a notary fails to check a credible witness’s identification documents and see that they have acceptable identification.
Failure to get a thumbprint!!!
This is my favorite. Thumbprints are critical for identifying a signer if fraud is suspected. Powers of Attorney and Deeds require a journal thumbprint in California. A fine of up to $2500 per incident would be the penalty. Most other states do not require thumbprints, and Texas and Florida actually recommend against thumbprinting as those states do not trust Notaries with biometric data which is the only foolproof way to identify a signer. How ironic!
Failure to administer an Oath
A fine of $750 per incident could be incurred, not to mention revocation, or suspension of a notary commission, or refusal to grant a commission. I heard that some Notaries in Oklahoma had to go to court for a loan document signing in question. The Judge found out that the Notaries had not administered Oaths on the Affidavits in the loan package. I heard that the Judge overturned the loan and had the Notaries commissions permanently revoked by their state.
If you have a felony conviction or have been convicted of a crime involving dishonesty or moral turpitude, you will most likely not be allowed to get a notary commission in the first place. If you already had a notary commission, it would be suspended or revoked the minute your state’s ntoary division finds out about it!
This refers to dishonesty in your professional activities. The penalty would once again be suspension, revocation, or refusal to grant a notary commission.
Failure of Duty
This means that you refuse to serve a member of the public who has a legitimate request for a notarization. However, if the signer doesn’t have proper identification, or doesn’t have a properly filled out document, or seems very questionable, you have the right to refuse service to such a client. The penalty would be refusal to grant a notary commission, suspension, or revocation of a notary commission. Additionally a fine of $750 could be imposed on the California notary public.
Falsely Acting as a Notary
This is a misdemeanor. Borrowing someone’s Notary seal and doing Notary work is a serious crime. If you are a Notary, keep your seal and journal locked up.
Making false statements to a notary
Anyone who induces a notary to make an improper notarization with regards to real property can be found guilty of a FELONY. This is the most serious type of fraud possible in the notary profession.
False or misleading notary advertising
Making false statements in notary advertising is illegal, and the penalty for a California Notary is $1500 per incident. Additionally, such a notary’s commission could be suspended, revoked, terminated, or there could be a refusal to issue a commission. Claiming to be an immigration expert, or be able to give legal advice could be a serious example of false advertising and perhaps unauthorized practice of law.
Selling personal information
It is illegal for the notary sells or misuses personal information of those he/she has notarized. Remember to keep your journals locked up, so that nobody can have access to that information. When making copies of journal entries, make sure that the neighboring journal entries are covered, so that their information is not shared with the public. Once again, your application could be denied, or your commission could be revoked or suspended for this type of crime.
Misstatements on a notary application (Application misstatement)
Your notary commission could be suspended, revoked, or refused if you are guilty of this misconduct
Here are some other crimes… I will just list them here, but may or may not describe the penalties.
Failure to deliver a journal to the county clerk at the end of your commission. – misdemeanor
Failure to safeguard seal and journal – revoke/suspend/refuse
Failure to report a lost or damaged seal – $1500 fine
Nonpayment of judgement / Refusal to pay child support – refusal to issue a commission
Failure to keep a journal – such notaries will be prosecuted
There are a few others laws that I am not going to mention, but these were the interesting ones…
You might also like:
A Notary loses $4000 in legal fees because someone changed a name on a certificate
All you need to know about notary work
How to complain about a notary public
Notary Fines and Penalties
Fraud and Forgery in the Notary Profession
Notary Public General Information
Can a Notary go to jail for Notary fraud?
Can a Notary go to prison for Notary fraud?
Notaries very rarely end up in jail. There are many illegal things that Notaries to almost daily. However, the law seems to rarely catch up with them unless a crime is committed where there are damages. Additionally, if the crime was committed with intent to steal, embezzle, or harm someone, the Notary would be in a lot worse trouble.
Notaries typically do not administer Oaths for Jurats. Those that do, typically administer an Oath in my opinion incorrectly. I test Notaries regularly and this is how I know. It is illegal to sign a Jurat that makes you claim that you supervised an Oath when in fact you did not. That might be considered perjury, although I am not an Attorney and cannot say with any certainty. However, Notaries very rarely get in trouble for omissions in their duty.
The only time I have heard of a Notary going to jail was one who assisted in fraud involving real property. The Notary falsified paperwork, probably Deeds of some sort and helped someone steal someone else’s property. That Notary got put away for a long time.
However, Notaries end up in court regularly for things that signers did fraudulently. Some signers alter documents after they were notarized. Other signers committed identity fraud. Once in a while, someone will forge a notary seal and pretend to be a particular Notary. It is common those these acts of fraud to result in a Notary being supoenaed to court or at least being investigated.
So, unless a Notary does something intentionally to cause financial harm to another person, it is unlikely that they will end up in jail — but, then.. who knows…
You might also like:
All mortgage fraud is investigated by the FBI
Penalties for Notary misconduct, fraud and failure of duty
Here are some posts about Notary Fraud
13 ways to get sued as a Notary
10 risks to being a Mobile Notary Public
2011 – Penalties for misdeeds and misconduct (most popular of all)
2018 – Penalties for Notary misconduct, fraud and failure of duty
2012 – Fraud and forgery in the notary profession
Notary loses $4000 because fraud adds name to the notary certificate
An identity fraud case in Florida with 13 defendents
It could cost $20,000 in legal fees if you are named as an identity theft conspirator
Notary fraud discussed in the 30 point course
We caught a bunch of frauds using notary verbiage
The FBI is at your door and names you as a suspect!
Two and a half Notaries: Detering Notary fraud
When I was a Notary and was handed some other Notary’s work, I normally saw that the he/she/they and capacity(ies) that needed cross outs did not have cross outs. By omitting the cross outs you cannot know if the signer is a single man, woman, or multiple people. California no longer allows Notaries to verify capacity which leaves one less thing to cross out.
If you as a Notary omit to cross out the she/they on an Acknowledgment for a single man, someone could add another name to the certificate and get away with it undetected. Notaries can be extremely negligent and don’t get caught — usually. But, I catch them by the dozen every day and penalize them on my site. I throw hundreds of Notaries off my site for failing my over the phone Notary quizzes. And others stay on the site but I deduct points from their point algorithm results which makes it very hard for them to upgrade. You might not take doing your job correctly seriously, but I do.
And then the Notaries who take their job seriously, but have been doing it wrong for 20 years and think that their work is flawless. I will catch you. I will expose many things you are not doing or are doing incorrectly. Better that I catch you rather than ending up in court with legal fees for not filling out forms correctly. Being a Notary is not rocket science. There is no reason for such negligence!
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Penalties for Notary misdeeds and misconduct
13 ways to get sued as a Notary
10 risks to being a Mobile Notary Public
The FBI is at your door and names you as a suspect!
Marcy was being very careful now. She had heard horror stories about Notaries getting sued, and landing in huge trouble. Of course in real life, very few notaries get in trouble. But, they could, and Marcy didn’t want anything in her life to go wrong. She got a call from a guy name Sam. Sam seemed very normal at first. Marcy drove out to the job. She recorded Sam’s ID in her journal. Then, she asked Sam for a thumbprint. Sam seemed reluctant. That was a warning sign if Marcy had ever seen one. Sam said, “You don’t need a thumbprint.” Marcy said, “It is safer for me if I have one.” Marcy didn’t know that Sam’s ID was forged. It looked legitimate. But, she had no way to detect the difference as it was forged by someone very professional. Finally, the guy got desperate as he really needed to get notarized. He gave her the thumbprint. A month later, Marcy got a call from a fraud investigator. Apparently Sam was in a lot of trouble. The Feds were catching up with him. Sam was doing fake transactions in false names for huge dollar amounts and cheating people. Marcy asked if they would like a copy of the journal entry that had a thumbprint. The Feds were very happy that she had taken that thumbprint. Without that one piece of evidence they would be virtually unarmed against this felon! A few weeks later Marcy got a call from the Feds. They caught Sam, whose real name was Charles. They were going to put him away for a long time, and they wouldn’t have been able to convict him without Marcy’s help!
Then, a week later, a Lender had a job for Marcy. It would pay extra. The Lender asked Marcy to save a few extra spaces in her journal. Marcy asked why. The Lender said, “Just do it.” Marcy had never been a fan of corrupt Lenders or Nike commercials. So, she just didn’t do it as she knew that was illegal, although she didn’t know what the Lender had in mind. At the signing, the Lender asked Marcy to put yesterday’s date on the transaction. Marcy declined. Then, the Lender asked if she wanted to get paid. Marcy replied that whatever he was paying wouldn’t do her much good if she was at “county.” And that whatever he was paying her (or not paying her) wouldn’t be a huge loss to him if he were locked up at “county”. A day after the signing, the Lender wanted another favor from Marcy. He wanted her to send a loose Jurat with her stamp on it because the certificate section on the Deed had gotten torn by one of their secretaries. Marcy told him that she would send him a certificate, but not a loose one. She said, “Just send the Deed back to me, and I’ll shred the old certificate and add the new one — that way it is legal.” The Lender didn’t like that and said, “Just send it.” Marcy was fed up by now. She told the Lender she was reporting him to the Secretary of State and for him to never contact her again. Just some advice for Notaries: If you want to stay out of trouble, you should consider declining work from anyone who makes even a suggestion of doing anything illegal!
Point (25) Identification & Jail Issues
Notaries who visit jails may be very aware that inmates never have an identification document which is suitable for notarization on their person. As a result, they might have their mother, girlfriend, or Attorney come and meet the Notary at the time of the notarization and bring the ID which is hopefully current. Jail wristbands do not constitute acceptable identification. However, many states allow the use of one or two Credible Witnesses. Please consult your state Notary handbook for specific laws relevant to your state.
Many States Allow Credible Witnesses
In California, Florida, and many other states, you can use two Credible Witnesses who know the signer, but who do not know the notary to identify the signer. If you visit jails, you might have to use this method of identification to legally notarize someone who doesn’t have an ID. Make sure these witnesses produce their own ID and sign your journal.
Many people do not understand the important concept of personal appearance. To be legally notarized, the signer must personally appear before the Notary. That means they need to be in the same room a few feet away, or on the other side of a glass in a jail. Once I was asked to notarize someone 50 feet away barely visible from a jail window. I couldn’t clearly see the person and I declined to notarize as that person was not personally appearing before me.
Point (26) Wrong Venue
What if the wrong venue is inscribed within the Notary certificate? What do you do? There are several things you can legally do. You can take a loose certificate, staple it to the document, inscribe the correct venue, and then complete the rest of the form. Or, you can cross-out the incorrect county, initial, and write in the correct county name on the original certificate. The third solution is to notarize the document twice: once with the existing certificate and then a second time with new certificate (two journal entrees necessary in this case) in hopes that one of the two will be accepted by the document custodian. It’s complicated. But, what the law says is acceptable and what the document custodian will accept are often based on two entirely different standards.
Point (27) Deterring Fraud
Notary Fraud is a serious issue. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen very often. But, it did happen to me. Luckily, due to my prudent practices, I was able to use three pieces of evidence to prove that a particular notarization was indeed done fraudulently. After investigation, we learned that the fraudulent notarization happened to have been done by a crooked Title Officer’s secretary!
What Constitutes Notary fraud?
There are many types of Notary fraud. Here are a few.
(1) If a signer falsifies an identification document, that would be fraudulent.
(2) If a Notary puts an incorrect date on a notarization on purpose, that would be fraudulent.
(3) If someone uses a Notary’s seal who is not the rightful owner of that seal, that is fraud.
(4) If a signer signs someone else’s name and has that signature notarized, that would be fraud.
(5) If a Notary or anyone else purposely attaches a Notary certificate to a document it is not associated with, that is fraud.
(6) Swapping pages on a document after it has been notarized is fraudulent.
(7) Using an expired Notary Seal is fraud.
Here are Some Ways to Deter Fraud:
(1) Use an embosser as a secondary seal for all pages of all documents notarized.
(2) Avoid leaving any blanks in notarized documents as those could be filled in after the fact.
(3) Staple Notary certificates to the documents they are associated with.
(4) Take thumbprints in your journal for all notarizations just in case the signer’s ID is forged.
(5) Be thorough when you fill out the additional information sections in an Acknowledgment certificate.
(6) Be sure to indicate how many pages are in the document.
(7) Be sure to indicate the name of the signer, and their capacity if applicable.
(8) Be sure to indicate the document date to better identify it.
(9) Be sure to indicate the name of the document.
Additional Optional Information for Acknowledgments?
Acknowledgment certificates have room for the document name, document date, and number of pages among other information. This information helps to identify which document it is associated with. Since Title likes to dismantle stapled documents which is a very questionable practice, you need to make sure they know which Acknowledgment goes with which document.
There are Three Reasons why this Additional Optional Information Should be Required.
(a) If the certificate is accidentally removed from the document, it will be clear which document it is associated with. That would help someone who made an honest mistake.
(b) If a fraudulent person wants to re-attach the certificate to another document, he would be deterred by the fact that there will be evidence to show that he fraudulently attached the certificate to the wrong document.
(c) If a fraudulent person re-attaches the certificate to another document, they can easily be caught after the fact if investigated.
These reasons are all related, yet all different. You assist the honest re-attaching, you deter fraud, and you catch bad guys when you investigate. Got it?
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What is a venue in a notary certificate?
Fraud and Forgery in the notary business
There are many types of fraud that a notary might run into in their notarial career, forgery being one of the more common types of fraud. But, let’s take a closer look at what specific types of things could happen.
(1) Someone could forge your seal and pretend to be you. It happened to me. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t forge my signature very well, and didn’t copy my style of embossing every page either. Putting technicalities aside, I bet they were not able to forge my quirky sense of humor either. Notary seal forgery is not common. In my case, I think they used a really good photocopier. BTW, a photocopier can NOT copy the RAISED impression of an inkless embossed seal which is why I used it on all of my notarizations.
(2) Page swapping — the old bait and switch routine. I got called to notarize many multi-page documents. I put my embossing seal through all of the pages leaving a raised impression on each page. I usually did these individually. Sometimes it is better to do all pages together so the seal goes through the same location in each page. However, the seal comes out more clearly if you go page by page. In any case, if you see a ten page document where all of the pages EXCEPT for page four are embossed, that would raise my eyebrows. I have had many situations, where the signer wants me to give them another acknowledgment certificate for a new page they are adding to the document. I tell them that I have to notarize their signature ALL OVER AGAIN, and that is the law no matter how many times you say, “Oh, come on”. With that attitude you might as well notarize your own signature as a non-notary!
(3) Title companies have a common practice of initialing for the borrower if the borrower misses an initial. It is “easier” than sending the documents back to the borrower. Whether it is signature forgery to forge initials is a matter for an attorney to decide, but it seems pretty illegal to me to engage in initial forgery. I don’t think that anyone audits loan documents to see if anyone is engaging in initial forgery, but perhaps they should — many Title companies might get busted or investigated at a minimum.
(4) Refusal to be thumbprinted? You must be up to something if you don’t want your thumbprint recorded. Maybe you have a fake identification card, right? You can fake an ID, but you can not fake a thumbprint.
(5) Signature forgery. If someone forged a signature on a document, they will have to have a fake ID and forge the same signature on the ID and in your journal. It would be a tough crime to pull off. I think that nobody in their right mind would attempt this. Normally, people try to do crimes of fraud in private, and wouldn’t be willing to let other parties see what they are doing, no matter what!
(6) Notarizing out of state? If you don’t have a commission in a particular state, you can not notarize there, with a few exceptions. Military notaries have special rules. A Virginia notary public may notarize out of the state of Virginia, but only for documents that are to be recorded within the state of Virginia. In any case, from time to time we will hear rumors that a notary public is operating illegally in a bordering state where they are not commissioned, and people want us to enforce the rule. I tell them to report the individual to the state notary division where the Notary in question is commissioned.
(7) Charging more than the state maximum notary fees is illegal, and charging more travel fee than your state allows (roughly eight states have restrictions for travel fees) can get you in trouble too.
(8) Filling out an Acknowledgment or Jurat form when you never saw the signer and never had the signer sign your journal is a really serious act of notarial misconduct. You can lose your commission and get fined or jailed for this.
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