The Importance of Identification for Notaries and Loan Signing Agents


Identification is essential to a notary’s or loan signing agent’s job. Notary2Pro’s co-founder Bill Ray says, “Regardless of what you learn throughout your training and experience, always remember that your essential duty and number one responsibility is to identify the person signing any document you are witnessing correctly.” There are several acceptable proofs of identity that you may use as a notary and loan signing agent to identify a signer.

Let’s review a few of these:

In some states, a notary can have the “Personal Knowledge” of the signer. Having personal knowledge of the signer means that you have known the signer for a significant time and can vouch for the signer’s identity. Knowing the signer does not mean that you have met the signer a few times at the grocery store, school, or other casual meetings. Knowing the signer personally means you have a long history with them and are sure of their identity. However, in many cases, you will not personally know the signers, so you must rely on official forms of identification.

Carol Ray’s “When In Doubt, Don’t Rule”

When identifying using Personal Knowledge, you are vouching for the person’s identity and putting your integrity on the line. If there is any doubt as to how well you know this person, “You don’t!” Move on to identification by Satisfactory Evidence.

Note from Carol: Although it is perfectly legal to notarize a document for a relative, you must be an impartial party to the notarized document. Be careful when notarizing documents for a spouse since California is a community property state. Also, be cautious notarizing certain documents for parents or your children. If a financial or beneficial interest is involved, it might not be impartial if you are a beneficiary of their estate.

The most common forms of acceptable identification for signers include:

  • Current state-issued driver’s licenses, state-issued identification cards, federally issued military identification cards, and passports.
    – Passports are the most challenging form of identification to duplicate fraudulently and, therefore, are the surest.
    – Photocopied military identification cards are not acceptable for identification purposes. Typically, this I.D. method is only suitable for a secondary form of identification for loan signing purposes. It is illegal to copy military identification.

Although these are the most common acceptable forms of identification, it is essential that you follow your state guidelines to ensure you are meeting all requirements. Specific criteria must be a part of any form of identification presented. All the following must appear on any single form of identification.
1. The identification must contain a photograph of the individual.
2. The identification must have their signature.
3. The identification must have a written physical description of the individual, including the individual’s height, weight, hair color, and eye color.

You can never overlook the importance of verifying a signer’s identification. Many experienced notaries may take for granted that the identification presented to them is valid. Do not become jaded! Remember, you must identify a signer correctly and protect yourself and those who will be affected by the notarized document. A notary must thoroughly examine the identification provided to ensure that the physical description, photo, and signature match the signer in front of you.

What kind of fake identification might I encounter?

Notaries and loan signing agents may encounter three kinds of false identification. Identification may be fake, altered, or borrowed. Whenever you are examining the identification of the signer, you should check the following very closely:
– Always check for anomalies in thickness, size, or color of the identification. Watch for cuts or overlays, air bubbles, and peeled back corners on the lamination.
– Any colors visible on the identification should be crisp, sharp, and distinctive. The ink should not bleed onto other colors or parts of the identification card.
– Always check the back of the driver’s license. If the back of the card is blurry or dark, it may indicate that they are photocopies. Counterfeiters often spend much time on the front of a driver’s license but not much time on the back.
– Ask the signer to state their birth date or address if you suspect a fake. If the signer cannot quickly do this, that is a telltale sign that this is not their actual identification.
– Always check for ghost images or holograms in the I.D. design. Holograms will typically appear damaged on an altered identification card. A hologram appears in a 3-dimensional state and disappears when rotated. It is infrequent for a counterfeiter to copy the actual hologram used by a State or Government Agency.

It is an excellent practice for notaries and loan signing agents to examine and learn the drivers’ licenses from their commissioned state(s). These include the visible and not-so-visible designs that make them unique.

There are resources available on the NNA website for notaries and loan signing agents to help determine the authenticity of various forms of government-issued identification. We recommend the U.S. Notary Primer and State Specific Notary Primers. An additional resource is the I.D. Checking Guide on

What to do if you suspect a fake?

If you suspect a signer’s identification is fraudulent, you are not obligated to notarize a document based on that identification. You may also ask for another form of identification. It is always a good idea to take all of the information off of the I.D. and put that information into your Notary Journal if the I.D. does end up being fraudulent. You may have to rely on that information someday to defend an action against you.

In most states, producing fake identification or presenting identification belonging to someone else is a felony. We advise you to be very careful if you run into this situation. Your safety is the most important thing and if you suspect you may be in jeopardy, get out. If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe leaving, complete the signing and call the police afterward. Notaries and loan signing agents are responsible for reporting the use of a fraudulent I.D. to the authorities. You can learn and read more about personal safety for loan signing agents here:

Credible Witnesses

In most states, an alternative to using a standard I.D. is using a “Credible Witness.” A credible witness is an individual who can vouch for a document signer’s identity. Although using a credible witness can be unnecessarily confusing for some notaries and loan signing agents, it is pretty simple. A credible witness is beneficial in situations when the document signer does not have any form of acceptable identification. The credible witness or witness will have to provide valid identification that the notary or loan signing agent will record. While most states allow using one credible witness, some will require using two credible witnesses to identify a signer. There are specific notarial certificates used for credible witnesses. Always check your state’s rules and regulations to be certain and consult with your hiring company before proceeding.

One Credible Witness

If a notary or loan signing agent uses one credible witness, they must know the witness personally. The witness, in turn, must know the signer. The notary must put the credible witness(es) under oath or affirmation that they believe the following are true of the credible witness:

1. The credible witness personally knows the signer (based on the same criteria as “Personally Known” above).
2. The credible witness knows the signer as the same person named in the document.
3. The credible witness reasonably believes that the circumstances of the document’s signer are such that it would be very difficult or impossible for that person to obtain another form of identification. (This is common in cases where the signer is in an assisted living facility or hospital.)
4. The credible witness believes that the signer does not have another form of identification in their possession.
5. The credible witness is not named in the documents and does not have a financial interest in the document.

Two Credible Witnesses

In states that require two credible witnesses, the witness must personally know the signer. In some states, the credible witnesses must personally know both the notary and the signer, creating an identity thread. The witness will be required to sign the Notary Journal and the Affidavit of Credible Witness. The law in some states also indicates that a document signer who does not possess any acceptable identification may use two credible witnesses who are not personally known to the notary or loan signing agent. If you use two credible witnesses, they must be able to swear that they can vouch for the signer’s identity. They will need valid identification, which you will enter into your Notary Journal. The witnesses will be required to sign your journal. Always check your state’s rules and regulations.

ID Verification for Over 50 Years | Driver’s License Guide Co.

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