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August 29, 2013

Don’t Do These Things: CA Notaries Who Have Done Wrong

Becoming a notary in California means taking on an awesome responsibility. And, like most awesome responsibilities, this one comes with lots of very strict rules that must be followed exactly. No, really — exactly. There is no wiggle room when it comes to being a notary public in California.

You would think that, with all of that responsibility and all of those extremely strict rules, every California notary would be very closely supervised. Nope! In fact, it is largely the opposite.

As a California notary public, you work almost completely independently of any state-sanctioned watcher type person. It’s understandable, given all that freedom, how someone who is a notary in California might be tempted to let some of the rules slide. Without someone watching your every move, it’s easy to say, “Oh, I’ll take care of that later,” or “Meh, good enough.”

Do not give in to this temptation! If you don’t see to every single detail and follow every letter of the law, you could wind up in huge and terrifying trouble.

For instance:

If you fail to properly identify one of the signers of the contract you are notarizing, you could face a civil conviction and have to pay a fine of up to $10,000. That is not a cumulative $10,000 over the course of your California notary career. That’s up to $10,000 for every time in which you, acting as a notary public in California, fail to identify a signatory to the satisfaction of the rules set forth by the Secretary of State. Yikes!

Let’s say that someone comes in and says they are working on an Intelius removal and need you to notarize some papers verifying the request to have the information removed from the system. The person wants the notary stamp to prove the time and date on which that person submitted their completed forms.

Your California notary public stamp tells a court (should the matter go that far) that you are vouching for the person, that he or she has met every legal requirement he or she needed to meet, and that they performed the deeds they say they did.

Let’s say you had to notarize three signed forms. You charge the person $45 for the service.

Whoops!

It turns out that, as a notary in California, you’re only allowed to charge people up to $10 per signature. You have overcharged the person by $15. Fifteen dollars doesn’t seem like that big a deal, right? You can just refund the over-payment, right?

Maybe. But if the person complains or brings suit against you for overcharging them for the duties you performed as a notary public in California, you’re going to be in trouble. The Secretary of State can suspend your California notary public commission for as long as six months, and you can be fined up to $750 — for every instance in which you overcharged that person!

Becoming a California notary is a huge responsibility, and these fines are steep and really scary. This is why, as part of the process of becoming a notary in California, you have to pay for “insurance.” This usually means paying for a California Notary Public Surety Bond. You can buy these bonds in a variety of increments. It depends on how much coverage you need. If you are sure that you can abide by every detail and follow every law involved with having your own California notary commission, you can go with a smaller bond.

The fact is that being a notary public in California makes you a very important person, and that means you have to take your important responsibilities seriously. Besides, can you really afford to have a criminal record and fines totaling thousands of dollars because you overcharged someone by a few bucks? It’s better to follow all of those annoying rules, don’t you think?

Erin Steiner was an Oregon notary public for one term. She now writes about everything from small business to pop culture topics all over the web.

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August 26, 2013

California Notaries Who Get Themselves in Trouble

In 1999, a California notary public was fined $750 and had to perform 200 hours of community service after being caught and pleading guilty to forging a notary stamp and using it in a public office within the state of California (and then lying about). SOURCE: http://www.lastwordedits.com/unlawfulnotary.pdf

Since then, the instances of notaries public in California have gone way, way down. So down, in fact, that a Lexis Nexis search turned up only two cases in which a California notary had suits brought against him. In one of those cases, the judge found that the California notary public had done nothing wrong. In the other, the judge ruled that the statute of limitations (six years at that point) on filing a complaint had expired.

Why?

Because the laws and penalties for breaking them are so strict that there is no way any notary public in California is going to break them.

For example, a notary in California has to keep her seal under very strict and exclusive control. If she fails to do so, while it has to be proven that she “willfully” disregarded this rule, she is guilty of committing a misdemeanor crime. The Secretary of State (who is the boss of every notary public in California) can also suspend her commission.

It gets worse if she lets people use her seal to perform notary duties under their own name and even worse if they perform them under her name. In addition to having her commission revoked, she can be fined up to $1500 — for every instance (and every individual notarization that someone else performed).

It is also a misdemeanor for a notary public in California to fail to properly maintain his journal. There are very strict rules about which details a California notary must include in his journal. Every single one of those details must be recorded for every notarization performed.

If the California notary public misses even one of those details one time, he has committed a crime. There is a statute of limitations on this rule. After four years, a mistake in the journal can’t be prosecuted. Still, do you want to be prosecuted three years and 364 days later for misspelling a person’s name or leaving out a date on something?

These are just two (of many) instances in which a notary in California can quickly build up a criminal record. It’s important that, should you want to go after your California notary commission, you’re prepared to follow every rule down to the tiniest detail.

Remember, on the surface, being a notary public in California looks more like fun than something responsible, but it is a duty that is incredibly important. When you become a California notary public, you are becoming an officer of the court — and that comes with incredibly high standards to meet.

Erin Steiner is a writer who writes about business, legal, pop culture, and general topics (like waterhog mats) She served as a notary public of

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June 17, 2013

California Notary laws that you need to know

CA Notary Laws that You Need to Know

There are lots of reasons to want to become a California notary. The fact that it is a resume booster is just one of them.

Notary Public California: Basics

By now you know just how easy it is to become a California notary public. Because the process (though lengthy) is so easy, a lot of notary hopefuls believe that the job itself is going to be easy. For the most part this is actually true…provided, of course, that you follow the letter of the law. The laws surrounding California notaries are strict, and it is important that you know them inside and out.

California Notary Laws

Here are just some of the laws that you need to follow when you are a notary in California.

Proper Identification Required

It used to be that if you personally knew the person whose documents you were notarizing, that person wouldn’t have to present any ID. That law is gone. Now—even if you’ve known them since preschool, they have to show you ID.

Your Journal Is Important

You know that journal the Secretary of State says you have to keep? You really have to keep it. It must be perfectly updated, and you really do have to know where it is at all times. More importantly, you have to know that it is safe at all times.

If you fail to keep the journal updated, secured, and protected, you could get charged with a misdemeanor!

NOTE: The same rules apply to your seal!

To this end, if anything happens to your journal or notary seal — if you lose them or they get stolen or damaged, you need to notify the Secretary of State immediately. Do not simply hope that it will turn up! You don’t want your seal to be used on fraudulent actions without your knowledge and without the Secretary of State knowing that it was not actually you who performed those actions!

To Thumbprint or Not to Thumbprint

As of January 1st, the state requires every notary in California to get a journal thumbprint for any notarizing involving “real property.” What does that mean? There is a partial list of what constitutes “real property” in the California Notary Law Primer.

Webcams Are a No-No

Notarizing something via webcam is not the same thing as being there in person. This means if someone wants you to perform a notarial action through a webcam, you could get in big trouble if you say yes!

Double-Check the Wording

There are some situations (like jurats) in which the wording in the document must exactly match the wording required by the Secretary of State. Make sure you know which situations require exact wording and which will let a “close enough” slide through.

Every year, the Secretary of State makes changes and tweaks to the laws for what California notaries can do, can’t do, and how they are required to do things. It’s okay to have questions and to feel unsure. When you aren’t sure what you can or can’t do, ask!

The 2013 Notary Public Handbook is available for free online. If you don’t find what you need there, contact someone in the Secretary of State’s office in Sacramento and ask.

Erin Steiner writes full time in Portland, Oregon, and has covered a wide range of topics from gutters to personal finance.

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