Watch Out for Notary Public Scams

Did you hear the one about the notary public who fell for the fake cop scam? It goes to show anyone can be duped, including notary publics you trust to witness and sign your legal documents.

Signing of contract

Fake Cop Scam Popular in U.S. 

It all started with a phone call to an unnamed Riverside County, California, notary who was told it was the police and she was about to be arrested. Frantic to avoid going to jail, she drove around town buying VISA gift cards and giving the scammer the credit card numbers. The notary public was $3,800 out of pocket before an attorney got through to her smartphone to tell her it was a fraud. 

First Clue it Was Fraud Was…

Illinois notary Kristin Fink was convinced she was being fined for failing to show for a court hearing of a client whose documents she sealed. She called local police when the call was cut off and only then discovered she was being led astray. Fink missed the first clue the call was fake when the “cop” said the subpoena was issued in January. Fink only started her career in February.

Mortgage Fraud and Ontario Notaries

Woe be to any Ontario notary public asked to notarize fake employment letters to get a mortgage. (Notaries only witness your signature — they don’t verify documents are correct.) Equifax reported in 2017 that fraudulent mortgage applications, mostly in Ontario, have gone up 52 per cent since 2013. 

What is Notary Fraud?

Frauds by real notaries happen less often. But Ontario notaries who fail to do their job can go to jail for up to two years, be fined or sued for negligence or fraud. Notary publics most often get into legal trouble for:

⦁ administering an oath or declaration without authority

⦁ saying they witnessed an affidavit or statutory declaration that they didn’t

⦁ or falsifying who swore or declared a legal document.

Notary Negligence in a Foreign Real Estate Deal

A West Coast notary public wound up owing a property buyer $695,000 in 2017 for failing to protect their interests from a foreign seller. The notary said he would check if sellers of a B.C. property were non-Canadians before transferring the property title to the buyers. When a seller refused to sign a statutory declaration that he was Canadian, the notary let the real estate transaction go through. The beleaguered buyer was hit with a $695,000 Canada Revenue Agency penalty. The penalty, a 25% capital gains tax, discourages foreign sellers from profiting from Canadian real estate. The court ruled the notary failed to make reasonable enquiries required by the Income Tax Act and didn’t notify the buyer of their potential tax liability. 

Securing documents

Not a Notary Public At All

Failure to perform is one thing. What about the notary who isn’t one? Ontario lawyer Timothy E. Leahy ran afoul of the law in 2018 for acting as a notary public after losing his licence. Leahy kept drafting legal documents and affidavits and offering legal advice after his law licence was revoked in 2014. He relied on a no longer valid certificate of solicitor status granted in 1991. Without a law licence, Leahy was not authorized to commission documents in Ontario. His argument that he had a lifetime notary public appointment was dismissed — no such thing existed. The province confirmed Leahy had never applied to be a notary and had no notarial seal. The court ordered him to pay the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) $29,500.

Faking Notary Credentials

Leahy fell down on the job by failing to get a notary appointment. Fake notaries usually concoct more elaborate schemes, such as fancy certificates of appointment. Look carefully. Only the Ministry of Attorney General can appoint a notary public in Ontario and all notaries outside of government, some corporations, unions or patent or trade agents are lawyers. 

12 Signs Your Notary May be Suspect

Warning signs your notary may not be who they pretend to be.

  1. They give legal advice but are not a lawyer.
  2. Their licence to practice law is suspended or inactive, easily checked on the LSO website.
  3. You’re not asked for government ID.
  4. Legal documents have mistakes.
  5. Pages are missing but you are asked to sign anyway.
  6. They offer to notarize documents without you or other signers being present.
  7. They notarize a document you signed in advance.
  8. You are rushed through signing documents you don’t understand.
  9. They notarize their own signature in a joint real estate deal.
  10. They both witness and notarize the document.
  11. They issue Ontario Photo Cards — only Service Ontario can do that.
  12. They use an alias or their notary seal is hard to read.

Talking with a lawyer

Get Legal Documents Notarized Online

Axess Law’s Ontario notary publics can view and notarize legal documents via convenient video conferencing 7 days a week, day or evening. Make a remote video call appointment by dialing 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form. Meet with a notary public In person at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.
Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s notary public services.