Knowledge is the Key to Securing Your Notary CareerBrenda Stone
News reports have appeared across the U.S. indicate that notaries aren’t aware that notarizing documents improperly or charging unjustified fees can cause any or all of the following punishments; the notary can be
- Sued for damages
- Jailed for a crime
- Sanctioned with fines
- Involved in a class action lawsuit
Since it has been about nine months since I last wrote about the importance of training, and I am bringing it up again because I know that it is the first line of defense to ensure you can protect yourself. Please note that in my closing remarks, I’ll give you a mini-update on my thoughts on remote online notarization and how this article relates to that.
Continuing Self-education is Critical
Most states do not have laws requiring education for notaries public. My own state of Texas does not require notary education. As a result, notaries are not aware that their errors can result in public accusations of intentional carelessness and law-breaking.
For me personally, continuing education and training by qualified individuals, agencies, or companies is crucial. Even if the law does not change, I tend to forget things that I don’t use regularly. For instance, in Texas, the law states that a current foreign passport may be used as an identification credential when notarizing “a deed or other instrument relating to a residential real estate transaction.”
From time to time I go back and look at this requirement to refresh my memory because I seldom run into this situation. (Did it say a foreign passport may be used for a deed only? Or did it mention other instruments? What kind of property is okay? Just real property, or residential real property, or was that only for homestead property?)
Without a requirement for formal education, notaries may form a belief that being a notary is a matter of stamping a document with an inked seal and deserves no more consideration than decorating pages of a scrap book with a colored stamp or stamping “PAID” on a bill.
Apathy About Education: How has this happened?
In my opinion, there are two leading issues that have created the dangers of non-education for notaries.
1 – Lack of Emphasis on Duties of the Notary Office. Unfortunately, new notaries learn incorrectly by seeing too much importance placed on how to make money with their notary commissions and very little emphasis placed on the importance of a notary’s official duties. Therefore, training isn’t a priority.
New notaries form a belief that whatever a hiring party asks of them is what must be done not understanding that notary laws come first. When they hear “No other notary has said ‘no’ to this,” a new notary often goes through with the procedure trusting the hiring party who just wants to get the job done.
In other situations, hiring parties are right and the notary is wrong because he or she doesn’t know proper notary procedure for his or her state. In either situation, when bad procedures are brought to light, it is the notary that suffers from lack of knowledge.
2 – Trainers Without Experience. Most recently, a new type of offender has emerged. Entrepreneurs who are short-time notaries have seen the earning potential for becoming notary trainers and promising outcomes to students of big incomes. They are charging hundreds of dollars (even thousands) for a notary course.
The result is devastating to notaries who are trained poorly by instructors with little or no experience and to those who hire poorly trained notaries. Errors occur and delays result. The notary may be held responsible for damages in addition to having his or her notary commission suspended.
Ultimately, the Notary is Responsible–Not the Inept Trainer.
It does not matter what a bad trainer teaches a notary, if poor notary habits are practiced, the fault lies with the notary who has not learned his or her laws. (If you have been the victim of poor training, please contact your state’s notary office and ask how to file a complaint with the appropriate agency.)
Solution: Protect Your Notary Career With Quality Education.
Even if you are not required by law in your state to take a training course, your first step as a new notary should be to find a solid notary training course. I personally recommend Notary.net. Courses on this site are so inexpensive!
Because this site’s owners have been providing supplies and training for notaries for nearly two decades, we are assured that they are rooted in our notary community. They aren’t here for quick money. This site’s reputation depends on your satisfaction with their products and courses.
Could Proper Training Have Stopped Problems Like These?
If the notaries reported in the links referenced below had been educated properly on ethics and notarial laws and had been made aware of the liability that notaries must bear for missteps, some would have avoided being involved in crimes, lawsuits, or sanctions. Of course, some of these reports relate to notaries who are criminals, but take a look at the problems caused to others by notaries in the stories below. The majority of issues could have been stopped by the notary having a proper education.
Incorrect Notary Procedures Followed by Government Agencies
It’s tough to follow the law if you aren’t sure of what it says! This article reports that a sergeant “…in the police department signed for someone else and was also the notary who signed the expense report.”
Often times, notary education is the last thing a government agency will spend precious budget money on when funds are tight. More than one story like this one has hit the airwaves in the past year.
Notaries in government agencies (even those in uniform) are especially vulnerable to being caught operating improperly. Audits are a part of life when public funds support an employer. And, of course, government agencies are run on revenue collected from the public.
Celebrity is Suing a Notary Public.
In this case, the notary didn’t require personal appearance. Many notaries are not clear that the purpose of their seal and signature is to show that the signer of a document has appeared before him or her and the signer has acknowledged signing the document for genuine purpose and/or swore or affirmed the truthfulness of the statements within the document.
Take a look at this article in which a Chicago notary has notarized without the personal appearance of Victoria Gramenos, a well-known figure who flips Chicago homes on the HGTV series WINDY CITY REHAB. Gramenos said that her signature had been affixed by others without her knowledge or consent to loan documents, operating agreements and lien waivers.
Ohio Notary Arrested
This is another case of not requiring the signer to appear before the notary.
In May 2019, a notary was arrested for allowing herself to be persuaded to notarize documents that were already signed without signers appearing in her presence.
Correct ID Credentials Should be Required.
Did this notary check ID to make sure the right person was in front of her? A certain North Carolina dentist allegedly defrauded his wife recently by purporting a woman he appeared with before a notary public was his wife. Thus far, nothing mentions charges against the notary, but how did the notary determine the identity of the fake wife?
Apply the Seal When the Signer is Still Present.
Why isn’t the seal being applied in the presence of the signer? One small business owner in North Carolina who charges for notarial services was reported and investigated for fraud because the customers never saw a seal applied. (To date, there has been no determination of liability or criminal activity that I am aware of.)
Whether or not state law requires the notary’s seal be applied at the time the document is notarized, it is a known best practice to do so. According to this article, customers complained because they paid the notary fee but never saw their documents stamped. Additionally, the notary fee had to be paid in cash which was another cause for concern.
Class Action Lawsuit Demonstrates Why Notaries Must Charge Appropriately.
If you employ notaries, protect your business with notary training before making policies. A UPS Store in Massachusetts was made the subject of a class action law suit because the store charged more than allowed by law to numerous customers.
Don’t Leave Your Seal Unattended.
If your seal isn’t left where others can use it, your name and your fraudulent signature won’t be readily available to criminally minded co-workers. In this case, a lawyer used his notary employee’s seal and faked a signature resulting in suspension of his law license. (See case #00797754 at this link.)
Closing Thoughts: Misunderstanding RON Laws Also Poses Threat.
My primary research area over the past week has been my state’s laws on remote online notarizations (RON). I have concluded this: the only information you can bank on at this time is that which you get directly from
- your own state’s laws
- your state’s notary public administrator
- your own attorney
I care about the online notary community having been a part of it since 2004. I have been writing publications for notaries over the last 10 years and I am mentioning this only because many of you may not know me or that I am invested in providing truthful, solid information to notaries. In fact, I could even say that the message today is heartfelt and weighs heavily on me. I want to caution you to be patient and fine-comb all the RON laws that attribute to you before jumping into it. Consider how all the traditional notaries mentioned above went wrong by not knowing their laws. We can only imagine how the problems will compound if you aren’t cognizant of the rules that go along with RON.
If you want to perform RON, please take a solid notary training course for basic traditional notary skills and be certain you understand how to perform as a traditional notary before you seek a RON commission. There is a lot to learn and everyone is ready to sell you high-priced products relating to RON.
I have been a notary for over 25 years, and without my experience and solid knowledge of the concepts of traditional notarization, I could not even begin to safely and properly use RON. I will write more on this topic in the future when I finish my RON research project, but for today, I feel safe in sharing my opinion that not gearing up for RON immediately won’t hurt you a bit. I have actually let my online commission lapse for now because I see no value in having it at this time. Initially, I obtained my online commission primarily so that I could write knowledgeably about it. The more I dug into it, the more I recognized little problems that were unclear. Currently, I am beginning to move toward an irritating belief that there will be very little notary signing agent work for RON notaries who aren’t working for a company. I hope that changes, but I have uncovered nothing yet to tell me the expense is currently worth the investment. However, you might be able to profit or break even on performing general notary work.
Focus on your traditional notary skills and be the best you can be.
Stay-tuned! I’ll see you in a couple of weeks!