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The role of notaries in today’s world is one of greatly increased responsibility in view of issues such as identity theft, mortgage fraud and other technological challenges, says Roger Rill, a full-time notary public in Columbus, Ohio and president of Notary One, a mobile notary public service.

Rill is also founder and president of the Ohio Society of Notaries (OSN), the only professional organization for notaries public in the Buckeye State. Among other things, the OSN is an advocacy organization for notaries.

Among its greatest challenges is that Ohio is one of the last states without statewide statutes governing the notary public profession. That means each of Ohio’s 88 counties maintains its own laws pertaining to the licensure, qualifications and registration, for example, of notaries, a situation that causes great confusion both among notaries and the general public.

The Role of a Notary Public

A notary public is a commission that instills the authority to verify the identity of the signer of a document. According to Rill, the role of a notary public is gaining all the more importance, partly due to the increasing number of insurance companies, corporations, government agencies and medical facilities requiring positive IDs prior to rendering services.

The global marketplace and the ease of fraud are two more reasons why it is imperative for the identity of a paperwork’s signer be verified by an impartial third party. In addition to verifying the identity of a signer, a notary public must also:

• Administer an oath attesting to the truthfulness of the document’s content, when required

• Ascertain whether the signer is aware of the document’s content

• Determine whether the document is being signed voluntarily

Having a document notarized also “engenders a level of trust with the court system that the person really did sign” it, says Michael B. Edelberg, a paralegal and Director of the Clinic Program for Chicago Volunteer Legal Services. He also notes a level of satisfaction for people when they know a document is supported by the validation of its signatures. “Then, if something gets contested, the notary can affirm” the identity of those who signed the paperwork.

Important Considerations

Although scenarios like Ohio’s, where each county maintains its own notary laws, are extremely rare, statutes governing notaries vary greatly state-to-state. For example, Rill labels California as the “gold standard” when it comes to educational requirements for notaries. A four-hour training course and comprehensive exam are required of notary public candidates, and notaries must also undergo a Department of Justice background check.

But it's not only laws governing American notaries that impact the global marketplace. For example, Day Translations in Tampa, Fla. provides translations, interpretations and document legalizations every day. According to company founder and President Sean Hopwood, “rules for notaries are far more lax” in the Unites States than elsewhere. Because of that, he cautions people utilizing the services of a notary public to be wary. For example, in Columbia, where notaries are known as ‘notario publico,’ laws governing the profession are extremely stringent.

Notario publico are legally trained professionals who charge more for their services than American notaries can. However, that term is not used in the U.S., so when people advertise their services using that title, the public is mislead, says Hopwood. It’s also important a notary public’s commission is kept up-to-date. Otherwise, their witnessing of a document is invalid. “I have seen expired commissions and have gone back to have people perfect the notary,” Edelberg says. “We are here to defend the public trust,” concludes Rill.

Tami Kamin Meyer is an attorney and writer. She is licensed to practice law in Ohio, both the Southern and Northern Districts of Ohio and the US Supreme Court. She serves as Of Counsel for the Consumer Attorneys of America, a national law firm based in Florida. Her byline has appeared in numerous publications including Ohio Lawyer, Ohio Lawyers Weekly, Ohio Super Lawyer, Corporate Secretary, GC Mid-Atlantic and the ABA Small and Solo Practitioners newsletter. In 2007, a study guide she wrote about filing personal bankruptcy was published by Quamut, a division of Barnes and Noble.

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