I am the current President of the New Zealand Society of Notaries and was appointed a Notary Public in 1989. During the past 5 years or so I have noticed the incidence of fraud on the increase, both as a solicitor in New Zealand but also as a Notary Public. Therefore, I conclude that any Notary Public must always be vigilant and on the lookout for unusual or suspicious documents.
A very important aspect is verifying the identity of the member of the public who comes in for notarial services. I always ask for an original and current passport and an original and current driver licence. I have been taught over the years that a passport is worth 70 points and a driver licence 20 points which makes 90 points out of 100 for identification purposes. Sometimes I ask for a utility bill which would confirm the residential address of the person before you. If a person does not bring in original documents then I send them away.
Having established the identity of the person to the best of my ability I then look at the document before me. This can vary from a power of attorney to be executed in my presence to company extract documents taken from the New Zealand Companies Office website to affidavits and declarations. My practice never changes – I produce my Notarial Certificate, attach copies of the identification, attach the original document which the person must sign in my presence, and comment in a separate paragraph on the document which may be written in a foreign language.
About 2 years ago I received a telephone call from a US attorney. He asked me if I kept a register of notarial documents and I answered yes. He was delighted and said that he would e‑mail me a document which I had witnessed nearly 12 months earlier and he asked me to compare that document with the copy document in my register. True to form the e‑mail came in the next day and I printed out the document from the USA. I then went to my notarial register and located the document which had been signed by a person who appeared before me in my office on a certain date. On one of the pages of the document, the dollar amount was different. Instead of being US$100,000 it had been changed to US$600,000 but the change was very subtle. However, I was able to conclude conclusively that the change had been made to the document after I had affixed my Notarial Seal and completed the notarisation of that document. I e‑mailed the US attorney, sent him a copy of the document from my register and made the obvious comment. He was overcome and e‑mailed me the next day to say that because I had done this it saved the Estate US$500,000 to which he and his clients would be eternally grateful. He did not suggest that I send him a bill and under the circumstances, I did not for I was delighted to be able to intercept an obvious fraud which the perpetrator nearly got away with.
Having attended notarial conferences over recent years it would seem that passport frauds are on the increase. There would appear to be many bogus passports in the world but in my opinion, a notary is not a bloodhound and does not have to conduct extensive enquiries. If a person presents a false passport but it is an original document, looks original, has not expired and matches up with the person’s name then any Notary can accept that passport.
A few years ago an English notary told me that he was very suspicious of a person appearing before him. The person handed him the original passport which he looked carefully in the person’s presence. He then said that he would have to leave the room for about 10 minutes to make some enquiries in relation to the passport. All he did was walk down the corridor, go into the kitchen and have a cup of tea. He returned to his office about 10 minutes later and as soon as he walked in the person appearing before him said that he had an urgent appointment, asked for his passport and said that he would have to leave quickly. QED.
In summary, it is essential that any Notary satisfies himself or herself as to the true identity of the person appearing before the Notary. If you follow the practice as I outlined above you should not come unstuck. However, that practice is not foolproof and if you have any suspicions you should raise them with the person appearing before you and see what happens.
Auckland, New Zealand