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5 Myths About Remote Online Notarization

Andrew Macdougall
January 15, 2022
5 min

Remote online notarization is helping people plan for their future, buy homes from their couch, and replace lost or stolen passports in a fraction of the time. Connecting with a notary via your phone or computer has not only made the notarization process easier, but more accessible. Its adoption is one of the fastest enactments of public policy in our country’s history, shaping how technology can better support life’s biggest moments.

But as with all new technology, there have been plenty of rumors about remote online notarization: what it is and isn’t; what it can and can’t do. That’s why we're here to set the record straight.

Here are the five most prevalent myths about remote online notarization.

1. Remote online notarization can’t spot fake IDs

A notary public has three key responsibilities during any transaction: confirm the signer’s identity, that they understand what they are signing, and that they are doing so willingly. Notaries typically do this by inspecting a state- or government-issued ID and asking questions that help ensure the integrity of the notarial act.

Remote online notarization platforms provide notaries with online, database-driven identity verification tools that help vet the signers appearing before them. Not only does this help prevent fraudulent IDs from being used, but adds a layer of safety and security to the transaction that doesn’t occur in person. Signers only connect with a commissioned remote notary if they are able to provide a valid proof of identity and pass the credential analysis and knowledge-based authentication stages.

Once connected, the notary is able to verify the identity of the signer – just as they would in a traditional interaction – by asking questions and using the ID photos captured during credential analysis.

Remote online notarization also makes the role of notary public safer. One NNA study found that 30% of notaries have faced pressure to ignore or break state laws, and many mobile notaries have had uncomfortable experiences with intimidating signers in unfamiliar places. It’s easy for the power dynamic to shift away from the notary if they feel that their safety hinges on if something gets notarized.

Remote online notarization relies on two-way, audio and video communications that allow remote notaries to conduct business from a safe, secure location, and empowers notaries to fulfill their role as an impartial witness.

2. Remote online notarization enables fraud

This comes from the growing success of Internet scams, which are up 1,100% in the real estate space over the last few years.

But RON has no role in this spike in fraud. Internet fraud succeeds because digital transactions are cloaked in anonymity. Making identity verification a core piece of any significant transaction is key to ensuring its validity.

Remote online notarizations are more secure than traditional, in-person notarizations through a number of key security features, but perhaps the greatest fraud deterrent is the recorded video session. Online notarizations are recorded for quality assurance and legal purposes, ensuring procedural consistency and protecting both signers and notaries from allegations of fraud.

In the real estate space, title agents use RON to identify real estate fraud. Unlike most Internet scams, there are several vulnerable targets in a single mortgage transaction – buyers, sellers, real estate agents, attorneys, mortgage lenders, title companies, notaries. Our friends at Community Title Network use RON not only for the convenience of its signers – who can sign from anywhere at their convenience – but to catch fraudulent transactions before they happen.

3. Remote online notarization can’t detect duress

We hear this one often because a webcam or phone camera can only capture what’s in its view. Some argue that there could be another person in the room, unbeknownst to the notary, who is coercing a signer to complete the document.

This would violate the integrity of the notarial act, which hinges on an individual completing documents under their own free will. And this concern is growing as cases of elder fraud and financial exploitation continue to rise.

But coercion isn’t limited to someone on the other side of a laptop. No notary, remote or otherwise, has the power to detect duress, especially duress which occurs subtly and over time – such as family pressure – or duress which occurs away from the signing table, such as financial pressure or threats.

Remote online notarization platforms record the entire notarial act. If duress or intimidation does play a role in a signer’s motivation, the best chance to prove that is by reviewing the session and looking for those subtle cues. That opportunity doesn’t exist after the fact in a traditional notarization – it’d be on the notary to catch those signs in real-time.

4. Remote online notarization hinders law enforcement efforts

Every transaction is recorded and securely stored, and once the notary completes each document in a transaction, the document is tamper-sealed and cannot be altered.

All documents are available immediately after the session and are readily accessible when needed. If there was ever any doubt about authenticity or validity of the transaction – on either the side of the signer or the notary – RON platforms allow you to review the tapes and the documents.

Typically, a document notarized in-person is one of a kind – there are no duplicates – meaning notaries cannot turn the primary document over to law enforcement. The best they can provide is information from their journals.

Additionally, paper notarizations are a security concern. If left unattended – even accidentally – there’s a world of problems that could arise. A document could be doctored or your personal information could be stolen. This is why law enforcement officials take the chain of custody regarding key evidence so seriously.

Human error leaves room for doubt and could put your information and the legitimacy of the notarized document at risk.

5. Anyone can conduct remote online notarizations

This is false. However, unlike the other myths, this one boils down to consumer education.

A notary cannot simply open a video chat platform like Skype and conduct online notarizations. Notaries understand that there’s a process they must go through to earn their commission – either a standard, in-person commission or an online commission. Similarly, there are a number of security and recordkeeping standards that RON platforms must abide by in order to conduct business online.

But many customers don’t know this, and others will disregard the principled decision for the practical one. If they can have their notarial needs met with a solution that seems simpler, cheaper, or quicker, they’ll take it. What they may or may not know is that they are sacrificing the validity of that notarized document

As the notarial act continues its digital migration – for simplicity, for certainty, and for convenience – it’s important notaries dispel these myths and talk about online notarization honestly. Doing so will improve consumer education, aid in fraud prevention, and help refine the notarial act to meet the needs of 21st-century signers and notaries alike. 

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Andrew Macdougall

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