Notary/Notary public: A public official legally authorized to attest and certify documents.
Notary/Notary public: A public official that is legally authorized to administer oaths, verify authenticity of signatures, certify documents, deeds and mortgages, and take affidavits with an official seal.
Notary Public: The Importance of Official Authentication
A notary public, a public officer constituted by law, oversees public matters, such as estates, deeds and powers-of-attorney. The notary’s functions include administering oaths and affirmations, taking affidavits and statutory declarations, witnessing and authenticating the execution of certain classes of documents, and taking acknowledgments of deeds and other conveyances, among others.
Many documents related to mortgages or foreclosures must be properly notarized, therefore fraudulent notarizations can be used to delegitimize a foreclosure.
A recent investigation in St. Petersburg, Florida, revealed deed scams throughout the city, involving “identity theft and collusion with a notary public who falsely claimed that a deed was signed in his or her presence.”
“So, then we have to track down the notary,” says Sgt. Kevin Smith, head of the St. Petersburg Police Department Economic Crimes Division. “In one instance, we had a deceased person who couldn’t have been present at the signing.”
In one case, Patrick Banks, a convicted robber, illegally took possession of an empty home in St. Petersburg’s Venetian Isles neighborhood. He began remodeling the $700,000 home, which was in foreclosure, while collecting rent on a second home he had acquired with a fraudulent deed. He was eventually arrested and sentenced to twenty years in state prison.
In the past decade, there have been five federal investigations into the mishandling of foreclosures by mortgage lenders.
In a June 2010 case, Jeffrey Stephan, a GMAC employee in Maine, admitting under oath to signing from 6,000 to 10,000 foreclosure documents a month. None of the information was verified and the affidavits were not signed before a notary, which is a prerequisite for documents to be used as evidence in court.
In October 2010 case, Kelly Scott, a former legal assistant at the Law Offices of David J. Stern, testified about fraud practices at that firm, including instances where paralegals, who were not authorized to act as notaries, rubberstamped documents even before they were signed.
Former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner revealed in that her office had discovered numerous cases of notary fraud related to foreclosure claims.
“At one financial institution, a group of eight notaries sit at tables and notarize 18,000 documents a month. What was described in the depositions was that the person who is signing the documents doesn’t really have knowledge of what is in those documents. In some situations, I’ve seen examples where one individual signs 2,000 to 5,000 documents a day with an e-signature,” Brunner said.
“Congress very quickly passed House Resolution 3808 (PDF) and it requires that state and federal courts honor notarizations from another state as long as they were lawful in that state. It seemed innocuous at first, but when you really look into it, and you look into what’s happening out there with technology and mortgages, and see that there are states with very lax laws and allow for electronic notarization without even presenting in front of a notary. It seems very clear that there an attempt of the banking industry to flank what’s being discovered by consumers with a lot of indignation,” she added.