Covid-19, RON

Notaries, Beware of RON

States are enacting emergency orders to allow RON, Remote Online Notarization, as a way to safeguard both the public and notaries in areas where quarantine orders have been instituted. Besides taking away one of the primary functions of personal appearance, RON also takes away the notary’s ability to identify the signers. The function of identity verification occurs through a third party function before the signer is connected to the notary public via audio visual means.

If notaries conduct business in a state which mandates notary’s responsibility for identification, using RON can make the notaries legally responsible for incorrect identification that the third party made.

Considering RON only uses a less reliable system where personal questions are posed to the signer who must answer correctly before being given access to the notary public, the ability of fraud can become prevalent. Currently RON does not have the ability to use Biometric methods (facial recognition, thumbprinting, etc) even though states, like Virginia, have written laws to require it.

Primary functions of the notary public are to identify the signer and determine their understanding and awareness of what they are signing. These functions are seriously limited when using RON. With the identification piece entirely eliminated from the notary’s responsibility, states that place the legal responsibility on the notary will need to revise their laws to safeguard notaries public from legal ramifications regarding the identification of signers.

If you are a notary, please read your state laws carefully before engaging in RON. You may be subjecting yourself to more harm than protecting yourself from Covid-19.noron

Covid-19

Notaries Public and Signing Agents are Essential Workforce

Notaries Public are ” Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce for the financial services sector” as defined by the attached memorandum from US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin. Notaries Public are “. . . workers who are needed to process . . . financial transactions and services, such as . . . settlement services,. . . to provide consumer access to . . . lending services, including . . key third party providers who deliver core services.” Notaries Essential

New Legislation

Remote Online Notarization (RON) Does Not Deter Fraud

There is a significant push to move the process of notarizing documents from in-person to over the internet (coining it as the “RON movement” which means Remote Online Notary movement). The organizations pushing for this move are marketing online notarization as bringing the “old school” process of in-person notarization into a “modern convenient”, “business transformation” over the internet notarization that will result in “real estate savings”.

But at what cost?

Consumers, courts, and law officials understand that Notaries Public are trusted individuals commissioned by their states to help protect the public from fraud when they place their seal on documents. “Through the process of notarization, Notaries deter fraud and establish that the signer knows what document they’re signing and that they’re a willing participant in the transaction.” (Citation from NNA) There are particular screening processes the notaries take to determine a signer’s identity and their understanding of what they are signing and willingness to sign.  Doing this type of screening over the internet makes the screening process more difficult. And the current security processes the RON movement utilize for notarizing real estate transactions have yet to be tested in any court of law. 

Remote Online Notarization (“RON”) has yet to prove it deters fraud.

In an online notarization, the process to identify a customer shifts away from notaries public to a third party process that utilizes “modern tools that validate identity online, such as credential analysis and knowledge-based authentication” Notarize.com citation. However, these “modern tools” can be manipulated by “modern” identity theft fraudsters who use the internet to find the security question answers to bypass the validation mechanisms used in RON. With online notarizations, the notary public doesn’t have the ability to physically examine identification to independently authenticate the identity of the signer. And with another high-tech fakery like “deep fake” video, the notary public can be fooled into certifying the signature of a fraudster. 

“RON” makes it difficult for notaries to provide evidence for law enforcement.

The National Notary Association has indicated in their the 2017 “MODEL ELECTRONIC NOTARIZATION ACT” the need for online notarization to require the capture of principals’ and witnesses’ thumbprints for all real property documents. (Ch 9, § 9-4 Journal Entries, pg. 51) NNA asserts that many impostors will be deterred from committing forgery because they will not want to leave a thumbprint behind in the notary’s journal as proof of their attempted crime. Prosecutors often use the journal evidence to bring forgers to justice. Currently, no RON implementation has provided the ability to obtain thumbprints. California currently requires notaries to obtain thumbprints for notarizations dealing with deeds and power of attorneys. However, the current California online notarization bill, AB 199, has removed this requirement. If this bill passes into law as it is currently written, it will be more difficult to provide evidence of fraudulent notarized transactions. 

“RON” diminishes the ability for Notaries Public to determine the willingness of signers.

To determine signers understand what they are signing and their willingness to sign, notaries public observe the nuances of the signers’ non-verbal communication because nonverbal communication tends to do the work of communicating emotions more than verbal.  In the online environment, it is more difficult to pick up what is being communicated nonverbally.  Notaries may not be able to hear the signer’s tone of voice, see their gestures, or know if someone else in the room is intimidating them. The ability to determine the signers’ willingness and understanding to sign is therefore diminished when the parties engage over the internet. 

Why the Rush?

As the Vice President of Old Republic Title National Underwriting Counsel wrote: “Caution is the watchword here. State, federal and bankruptcy courts have invalidated mortgages and other documents due to defective notarizations. When that happens, the lender’s lien position is not only jeopardized but the enforceability of the mortgage itself is put at risk.” Current processes used by RON are not entirely equipped to handle safeguarding fraudsters in the way in-person notarizations are. The process of notarizing documents has been going on for hundreds of years and there is no upcoming end to this process. Before states hop on the bandwagon of RON, the lawmakers should assess their current process and determine if the movement to online notarizations will benefit or provide a detriment to their current process.   

Federal laws in recent years have pushed to protect consumer privacy and security, lawmakers would benefit to consider the costs and benefits of RON for their constituents.  Notaries Public are trusted by the public at large, courts, businesses, and law enforcement. There should be no reason to rush towards an untested process that may very well create more consumer fraud and abuse which can lead to distrust of the notary public profession.

How notaries serve the public seems to be working just fine going on several hundred years now. Let’s take a step back and focus on considering all avenues to safeguard the consumer in every way. When it comes to notarization, consumer protection is the ultimate purpose.

Recognition

Honoring the First Female Notary Public on International Womans Day

” I am a woman and I am a lawyer-and what of it? I came into the practice of my profession under the laws of this State, regularly and honestly, . . . and I have come to stay. I am neither to be bullied out nor worn out. ” ~~ Clara Shortridge Foltz

Unlike other original Suffragists, Clara Shortridge Foltz was able to exercise her vote after the ratification of the Ninteenth Amendment which gave women the ability to vote. Clara was the “first woman” in many ways in California:

  • 1878: First woman admitted to the Bar in California. 20th District Court at San Jose.
  • 1880: First woman to hold position Clerk for State Assembly Judiciary Committee.
  • 1881: Elected President of California’s Woman Suffrage Association.
  • 1887: First woman to hold statewide office in California (Board of State State Normal School).
  • 1891: First woman Notary Public in California. Lobbied for parole and penal reform.
  • 1909: First woman appointed to the California State Board of Charities and Corrections.
  • 1910: First female Deputy District Attorney of Los Angeles. [resource link]

This remarkable woman shaped a path for women when women weren’t in a position to do so. In 1849 when Clara Shortridge Folz was born, the United States had only its 12th US President, the California Constitution was just ratified which extended property rights to women, and the first female physician was awarded her MD (Elizabeth Blackwell). At a time before the Civil War ended and slaves were freed, a 15 year old teacher eloped with a Union soldier and thus began a life as most mid-west women did at the time. Clara Shortridge Foltz gave birth to five children and traveled to California with her husband, settling in San Jose.

During the Civil War, the Suffrage movement halted because women put their energy into the war effort. In 1878, there was a devastating economic depression. This was the year Clara Foltz became a single mother after divorce. She was a seamstress but the income was not sufficient to care for her five children, and in a time when women could not hold property in their own name let alone vote or hold prominent positions, a single mom didn’t have a great outlook. However, this did not deter Ms. Clara Shortridge Foltz. She studied law at her father’s law office in San Jose and took up a career as a public speaker arguing for women’s suffrage. She discovered that California law only allowed “any white male citizen” to become a lawyer, so she drew up an amendment striking out those limiting qualifications and pushed it through the legislature in 1878. Just months after the enactment of the Senate Bill 66, “the Woman Lawyer’s Bill”, she became the first woman admitted to the California bar. 

The triumph of this first for the single mother gave rise to another obstacle. When she was denied entry to law school because she was female, she was again not deterred. She sued the law school and won the right to enter it. She became the first Notary Public in California and developed a passion as a humane and sympathetic counselor which brought many indigent clients into her office. She discovered an inequity with the defense of the indigent clients and the highly paid and skilled prosecutors convicting them. Because she believed that unless there was comparable representation, the constitutional due process could not be had. Foltz wrote and personally promoted the “Foltz Defender Bill,” which was adopted by 31 states. She became known as the founder of the Public Defender.

Clara Shortridge Folz was an active and outspoken advocate for the Suffrage movement. Among her achievements she advocated for constitutional clauses guaranteeing women access to education and employment. In advocating for women’s rights, she kept traditional values where it concerned men:

“Men cannot succeed without the aid of women, nor can women be more truly working for the advancement of their own sex than when seeking to uplift, dignify, and purify men. Women compel men to think. “

A woman, single mother, trail blazer, advocate, and one of the original suffragists, Clara Shortridge Foltz never let the obstacles that plagued her life as a woman deter her from what she wanted. She provides inspiration to all women to never let anyone tell you, that you cannot do it. The perfect woman to be honored on International Womans Day, 2019.

#IWD2019 #BalanceforBetter

Recognition

The Notary Public who administered the Oath of Office to a US President.

President Warren G. Hardy was involved in a rigorous speaking campaign
he dubbed the “Voyage of Understanding” during the summer of 1923. After giving a speech to 25,000 people in a stadium at the University of Washington (what would be his final speech), President Hardy fell ill. On the evening of August 2, 1923, President Hardy’s wife began to read a glowing review on him. When she momentarily paused, President Harding spoke his final words: “That’s good, read some more.”

On August 2, 1923, Vice President Calvin Coolidge was at his family homestead in Vermont. His home had neither electricity nor a telephone, so he received the word about President Harding’s death through messenger. The inauguration of the 30th United States President took place in John Coolidge’s family parlor illuminated by a kerosene lamp at 2:47 am on August 3, 1923. It was Coolidge’s own father, John Calvin Coolidge Sr., a Vermont Notary Public, who administered the oath of office.