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April 23, 2015

ID – A Growing Problem

Confirming the identity of the affiant is a complex issue. Notary laws regarding ID requirements vary by state. Some states are very specific and have a list of what constitutes proper ID. They may or may not permit the use of a substantiating witness. I am not aware of any jurisdiction that requires multiple IDs to notarize; if you are aware of this situation please comment. One of the vendors: https://www.driverslicenseguide.com/products_summary.html has guides ranging from 25$ to over $200 (published annually!). Clearly, ID fraud is a growing issue.

As mentioned in a prior post, the City of New York will issue an “inmate release ID” with any name the prisoner chooses; if they can’t ascertain the true ID via fingerprints (1st offender?). A new initiative in NYC is to issue “Municipal IDs” to virtually anyone. There are rules and some proofs are required; but the general opinion is that they will be easy to get; with any name or address you choose. Applications can be submitted at the main NYC library or one of the Credit Union offices. Picture their situation if the proof of birth is hand written in Latvian from the local parish, without an e-mail address or telephone. Thus, even a crude forgery becomes a “valid NYC ID”. Glad you don’t live in New York City? But, you have problems too.

If your state does not have a specific list, it’s generally acceptable to accept the classic: “Government Issued Photo ID” – so do you take the NYC ID discussed above? Getting away from the proclivities of New York; most states certainly take other states Driver License, but who can really tell a genuine from a forgery? Without subscribing and always carrying an ID guide, it’s virtually impossible to know what to look for in unfamiliar driver licenses. Worse, some of the passports I have seen are totally handwritten, nothing machine printed; a few even seem to use common package sealing tape to “laminate” the ID photo, yikes!

I have been presented everything from a Food Town membership card to a Diplomatic Passport issued by the State Department. I notarized a Secret Service agent’s mortgage papers. Have I previously seen an SS agent card? Of course not. It looked “good” – so I accepted it. Yes, he did have a pistol also, inadvertently briefly exposed. He also had a DC driver license, again a first for me. Probably they were authentic; but as notaries we are not trained in ID verification.

Some might argue that a national ID card, the same for everyone is the solution. I doubt if such a measure would ever become reality. Thus, we are, with virtually; no strike that – with absolutely no training tasked with determining if the ID presented is authentic. Even a highly trained state trooper can be fooled with a good forgery. So far, there does not seem to be a solution. Here in New York State the notary is required to view (not verify!) “adequate proof” of ID. The determination of “adequate proof” is the responsibility of the individual notary – NY State does not publish a list of acceptable IDs. The list would be helpful; but forgery is still a big issue.

Inexplicably, we have the technology at hand capable of doing the job. There are databases of information about the authenticity of documents. There must be (probably with some exceptions) databases of currently issued and valid IDs. It would be nice to be able to take a cell phone picture of an ID and have it verified by competent authorities. Alternatively, many phones have the ability to scan fingerprints for their lock screen. Perhaps that technology will come to the aid of notaries struggling to verify the identity of the affiants prior to adding their stamp and seal.

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