Steps to Proper Notarization
Official Statements on Webcam Notarization
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In January 2011, rumors that a new website had been established to provide online notarization services surged through notary forums and email lists. The American Association of Notaries (AAN) received emails that expressed concerns regarding this type of notarization process.
The site, which the AAN will not name, claimed that a citizen could receive instant notarization services if he or she had access to a webcam. The webcam would provide an opportunity for a video conference session between the citizen who needed notary services and a notary. According to the site, once the video conference was established and the citizen was “connected” to a notary, he or she would receive “legal” notary services.
According to promotional press releases that were published subsequently, a signer would go to the address of the website and create an account. The identification of the signer would be conclusively established during the account set up. To do so, the site’s attendant would ask a series of questions that were based on public records. Theoretically, the answers to the questions were known only by the signer.
Once the signer’s identity was established satisfactorily, the signer would transmit the document to the site’s waiting notary, sign the document using his or her computer mouse, and the notary would electronically notarize the document.
The site and press releases also mentioned that the notary’s computer captured the transaction and the signer’s face on video and that the connections over which the transaction took place were “secure.” The fee for the notarization service was stated to be $14.99.
Emails from notaries and attorneys appeared in our inbox and they all covered one or more of six concerns:
-A webcam appearance is not the same as personal appearance. Notaries said that there is no certain way to identify a person through a camera. Some notaries suggested that signers could be forced to sign the document by someone off camera.
-The notary did not have an opportunity to view the original ID documents and that asking questions did not fulfill ID requirements. They felt strongly that using information from public records was not a lawful method of identifying a signer. Some mentioned that “public records” are available to the public, so they did not believe that the question/answer method could be a conclusive method of identifying a signer. Further, even though the notarization was conducted over a “secure” connection and was recorded, these measures would do little to stop a fraudulent transaction.
-The website’s stated fee of $14.99 was higher than any state allows for a notary act. The emails were accurate; there is no state in the union that allows a notary to charge $14.99 for a single notarization.
- Electronic notarization is not the appropriate method for all situations. Electronic notarization cannot be used in a transaction in which the recipient needs a wet ink signature. For instance, one cannot sign a deed electronically if the recipient or the clerk’s office does not have the software to verify that the deed has been signed by a certain person and a certain notary. Printed copies of electronic notarizations look like copies; it is quite possible that the notarization would be useless for the recipient.
-The issue of stated venue. Would the venue on the notary certificate be the venue of the notary or the venue of the signer? If a notary from New Jersey, for instance, notarized a document for a signer in Florida, what would the venue say? Since there are no laws in effect to allow webcam notarizations, it is impossible to determine which location is correct for the notary’s certificate.
- No state has laws in effect that allow webcam notarizations. Would such a notarization be valid if this type of notarization was challenged and determined in the future to be illegal? If one of the online notarizations was attached to a document that became the subject of a lawsuit, would the notarization be voided once the court learned the method of notarization?
Official Decisions from States
When concerned notaries contacted their notary public administrators’ offices, several strongly responded to discourage notarization through the use of webcams. One state even used the phrase “scam alert,” and another state said that the information that was published on the webcam notarization website was “misleading.” The AAN is aware of the following states that have made public statements about online notarization through the use of webcam:
CALIFORNIA (March 2011)
"Online webcam notarization is invalid and illegal in the State of California. A private company claims to have the first online notarization website and has sent misleading information and made false claims to California notaries public concerning a new online notarization service. The web-based platform purports to allow a person to submit copies of identification over the Internet and to use a webcam in lieu of a personal appearance in front of a notary public. Appearance via webcam does not meet the requirements for notarization in California...."
FLORIDA (May 2011)
"Thank you for contacting the Governor’s Notary Section. The physical presence requirement at the time of notarization is still in effect per section 117.107(9), Florida Statutes and there are no exceptions to the presence requirement. " (Via email.)
NEVADA (JULY 2011)
"Customer Alert: Online webcam notarizations are not permitted in the State of Nevada. A person seeking a notarization is required to personally appear before a notary public and sign the document in the presence of the notary. Appearance via a webcam or other electronic medium such as Skype does not meet Nevada’s law governing personal appearance. Please be aware of any online notarization service being offered by a private company..."
NEW JERSEY (July 2011)
"NOTICE Concerning Online Notary Services Utilizing a Web Cam or other Video Equipment: The Division of Revenue requested legal guidance concerning the practice of online notarization services utilizing a webcam or other video in lieu of a personal appearance in front of a valid New Jersey Notary. It has been determined that New Jersey’s statutes do not allow for this type of notarization."
RHODE ISLAND (June 2011)
"ALERT - Please be advised that pursuant to state law, all Notary Publics authorized to by his Excellency the Governor, may exercise said powers 'within this state'. An individual completing an acknowledgment must do so "before" a person authorized to take acknowledgments under Rhode Island law, including Notaries Public. The Governor of the State of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Secretary of State have further set forth, by Executive Order, the requirement that the person completing an acknowledgment or seeking other services from the Notary Public must 'appear in person' before the Notary Public. Other electronic means of appearance, such as web cam and Skype, do not comply with the requirements of state law and the Executive Order."
OHIO (July 2011)
"Scam alert: Online Notarization. Online webcam notarization” is invalid in Ohio, but at least one company is claiming to provide a web-based notary service to consumers throughout the U.S. Under Ohio law, if you need to get a document notarized to verify your signature on the document, you must be physically present with the notary public at the time you sign the document.
If you are not physically present (in person) with the notary public at the time of signing, the notarization is invalid and the document itself may become invalid..."
OREGON (July 2011)
ONLINE WEBCAM NOTARIZATION is invalid and illegal in the State of Oregon. "A private company claims to have the first online notarization website and has false claims concerning a new online notarization service...It is important that Oregon notaries do not participate in this scheme. Clearly, Oregon notaries public who notarize in this fashion are breaking the law, and are subject to administrative and possibly criminal and civil sanctions. It is unclear if notarizations of Oregon citizens done remotely by notaries that are not in Oregon will be upheld in court."
TEXAS (Jan 13, 2011)
"Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Performing a notarization without the signer personally appearing before the notary at the time of the notarization is a Prohibited Act. It is specifically cited as good cause for taking disciplinary action against your notary commission. Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 406.009; 1 Tex. Admin. Code § 87.11(a)(16). Appearance by webcam or video conference is not personal appearance. Personal appearance means physically appearing in the presence of the notary." (Via email.)
WISCONSIN (May 2011)
"...Online webcam notarization is invalid and illegal in the State of Wisconsin. A private company claims to have the first online notarization website and has sent misleading information and made false claims to Wisconsin Notaries Public concerning a new online notarization service. The web-based platform purports to allow a person to submit copies of identification over the Internet and to use a webcam in lieu of a personal appearance in front of a Notary Public. Appearance via webcam does not meet the requirements for notarization in Wisconsin..."
Virginia’s Laws on Video Conferencing
Virginia lawmakers recently wrote laws regarding electronic notarization through the use of video conferencing, but the laws are not in effect.
VIRGINIA (March 2011)
"Still NOT lawful in 2011... the provisions of this act relating to the use of video and audio conference technology shall become effective JULY 1, 2012..."
After July 1, 2012, the ID methods described are very strict according to the new law: "(i). In the case of an electronic notarization, 'satisfactory evidence of identity' may be based on video and audio conference technology, in accordance with the standards for electronic video and audio communications set out in subdivisions B 1, B 2, and B 3 of § 19.2-3.1, that permits the notary to communicate with and identify the principal at the time of the notarial act, provided that such identification is confirmed by (a) personal knowledge, (b) an antecedent in-person identity proofing process in accordance with the specifications of the Federal Bridge Certification Authority, or (c) a valid digital certificate accessed by biometric data or by use of an interoperable Personal Identity Verification card that is designed, issued, and managed in accordance with the specifications published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 201-1, "Personal Identity Verification (PIV) of Federal Employees and Contractors," and supplements thereto or revisions thereof."
The AAN’s Position
The AAN does not take positions on matters that are of a legal nature. We support the decisions and rules of the states’ commissioning offices.
To determine whether or not webcam notarization is legal in your state, please contact your notary public administrator. You may refer to this article in your inquiry as long as the article is referred to in its entirety and credit is given to its source.