Notaries don’t get famous, but they sign up new accounts


By Erica Batten. In March, the North Carolina Secretary of State and the UNC School of Government released a new edition of the Notary Public Manual. It’s the first update to the guide in 10 years.

In the arcane world of notary, it does not get any bigger than this. North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall said state law requires every single notary to have this new edition.

“This new book will have all the prior supplements and will give them a great amount of new material aimed at helping each of them to be a great notary public in this complicated 21st century,” Marshall said.

Unlike other parts of the legal process—from autopsies to trials—notaries are not the stuff of TV dramas. Indeed, notaries are officers of the court and, as such, verify and witness signatures of documents such as car titles, powers of attorney and affidavits. They’re high-integrity people. Take Anil Sanade, a licensed notary at The UPS Store in Cornelius.

“This is a legal process. A lot of people don’t understand that,” said Sanade, who worked as a notary in California, where, he said, the laws governing notaries were stricter.

“It’s a do-it-wrong-and-they-can-sue-you kind of state,” Sanade said. Still, even in Hollywood, notaries haven’t caught the attention of HBO or AMC.

Pat Horton, regional president for retail banking at Uwharrie Bank, says notary services are “very important.”  For one thing, notaries help non-customers start banking with Uwharrie.

“And as always our bank uses caution and proper documentation to provide this important service,” says Horton, a veteran banker.

Notaries serve as our first line of defense against those who would commit document fraud or attempt forgery. Notarization is important because it ensures that documents are authentic and that signatures are genuine.  Furthermore, the process verifies that signatures were provided without intimidation and that the signers intended the document to be fully effective.

“The rest of us certainly owe the people willing to do this work a real debt of gratitude,” Secretary Marshall said.

According to the National Notary Association, notaries have served an important function in society for centuries.  Notaries accompanied early explorers like Christopher Columbus, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain wanted detailed records of any treasure he discovered.

In more recent history, baseball great Pete Rose was required to swear and sign before a notary that he’d eaten Wheaties since childhood before he was allowed to appear on the cereal box.

The need for notary services is significant enough that the UPS Store in Cornelius has a notary available almost all the time, Sanade said.  Because customers are often there for copies or other print services, the notary function just makes sense. Notarization costs $5 per document.

Notarization not only prevents fraudulent breakfast-cereal endorsements.  It also deters forgery that would ultimately dissolve the network of trust in civil society.  The notary public prevents fraud and protects personal rights and property.

Take Operation Wax House. In the world of notary, that one is a doozy. The investigation by the FBI in Charlotte brought down mortgage fraudsters ranging from real estate agents and “bank insiders” to promoters and—you guessed it—notaries. Out of roughly 90 people involved in the scam, two were notaries.

According to the FBI, witnesses testified that an unscrupulous real estate agent arranged for builders of luxury real estate to pretend to sell said real estate at an inflated price–called the “gross price”–in order to get an inflated mortgage loan from a bank. In reality, the builders accepted the true, lower price—the “strike price”—while the difference between the two was paid as kickbacks. Such kickbacks were funneled through sham companies and disguised to look like payments for work actually done on the real estate.

It’s one reason why the notary manual was strengthened. In order for a notary public to notarize a document, the person whose signature is being notarized must sign the document in front of them. The person can’t sign the document ahead of time and then bring it to the notary, Secretary Marshall says.

The new manual, Marshall says, will “assist notaries in making the right call when dealing with difficult situations.”


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