A couple of months back I received a call from a very nice man in Florida who was calling me to verify a notarization that I had completed. Someone was trying to obtain a business loan for a VERY large sum of money and he wanted to verify my notarization as part of the vetting process. He said he had checked the online listings of current notary publics with the California Secretary of State and could not find me. I thought how odd. I am also starting to worry. I asked him for the customers information, such as date of the notarization, name and type of notarization. He gave me the information and none of it sounded familiar to me. It was a notarization that had supposedly been done only a couple of days prior to his call. I went and retrieved my journal and looked through all my entries for the date and name that he had given me and there no such entry for his client. I am thinking, my worst nightmare had finally came true. I am officially the victim of notary fraud and identity theft. The gentlemen went on to tell me that the notarization had looked suspicious (thus the reason for his call) and I asked him, “How so?”.
For starters, he tells me, that the seal was round and not rectangular. it was also an ‘electronic seal’ and had an electronic signature (a cursive font). With some relief, I told him that here in California we don’t use ‘electronic signatures’. We have to always wet sign (meaning wet ink, pen to paper). And I let him know for the record, I don’t have or use a electronic seal. So now at this point, it is time for me to see this notarization. I asked him, if he wouldn’t mind sending over a copy. He was happy to do so.He scanned the document and sent it right over and all I can say was that I was stunned. It was exactly how he had described it. However, after closer inspection, I saw that my name on the seal was crooked and they had spelled my last name incorrectly and the commission number was not mine. However, to be sure, I checked through all my previous commissions-no match, thankfully, not even close. So, I am going to assume that they just made up a number. Also, the name they used is not the name that I use on my commission. So I am pretty sure that I had been chosen at random and that no-one that actually had used my notarial services had tried to commit fraud at my expense. Needless to say, the loan was denied.
I thanked the gentlemen for calling and thanked him for his due diilgence. I was so pleased he had taken the time and picked up the phone to make sure that this notarization was authentic. Which brings me to this-I believe that EVERY notarization that is done (especially those that move property and/or money, think POA’s, and the like) from one hand to another should be verbally checked for it authenticity. This would protect the public as well as the notaries. With the rise of fraud and stolen identities, it only makes sense.
In the end, I let the proper authorities know. I am sure it wasn’t the first time and certainly wont be the last.
And as a side note: All these companies trying to push ‘electronic notarizations’ are out of their minds! This will be fraudsters dream come true!
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. 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 embosser which is why I used it.
(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 they miss 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 that is applicable.
(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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Seal Forgery – it happened to me
I notarized a set of loan documents for a company back in 2003. It was a regular signing and nothing went wrong. You know how companies sometimes request that you send them another “Jurat” if the stamp isn’t clear on the initial one? California notary law requires that certificates be attached to the original document for security reasons. This means stapled. But, the loan companies protest whenever you ask them to send you back the document and ask why you are being so difficult. For many signing companies, the idea of obeying laws means you are being difficult. The company that forged my stamp did not ask for a loose Jurat, they were in a hurry and pulled a fast one.
I heard about it from a third party
A third party contacted me asking if I had notarized a loan package for a particular borrower. I couldn’t find the information in my journal for the specified dates, or even for the specified month. We figured that it must be a company that I had worked for before that had an impression of my seal on one of their loan documents, since I didn’t notarize that particular borrower’s loan that was in question. We had to be detectives to figure out what had happened.
Copying my seal
This company copied an impression of my seal that was on someone else’s loan, and copied it onto an Acknowledgment certificate for an entirely different loan that I had never had anything to do with. It was hard to tell since photocopiers are so good. I asked the third party to send me the notarized document and its Acknowledgment certificate. The forging job was so pathetic, it was funny when I saw it. The seal looked legitimate to my eyes, since I couldn’t tell it was copied. However, there were tell tell signs that I had not notarized this document.
(1) I always used an embosser on every page of every document. Embossers leave a raised impression in the paper. This document had no raised seal on it.
(2) The signature was a very girly signature which didn’t match mine even slightly. The lines of the signature were very curly and the i’s were dotted with cute little circles that only a girl would make like that.
(3) The acknowledgment certificate wording didn’t have the he/she/them and (s) verbiage crossed out where appropriate indicating that the person who fudged this job couldn’t have been a notary, or at least was a really pathetic notary.
I told them:
After I saw this pathetic attempt at something which is not even good enough to qualitfy as forgery, I told the third party that I had definately not notarized this and that it was fraud. Additionally, there was no journal entry to back up this job, and I took journal entries for all transactions in all cases.
If you always use an embosser on all pages of all documents, you deter the switching of pages after the fact on documents you notarized. You make it almost impossible for someone to get away with forging your notarizations. Additionally, you impress your clients with how thorough you are which can gain you more business. An embosser is less than $40, so get one today! Some states will require a government issued authentication of permission to get an embosser, so apply now!
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