Can a Notary actually serve jail time if convicted of wrongdoings? Yes, but it depends on the charge. Case history shows Notaries have served time for fraud, conspiracy, grand theft, and identity theft.
When a Notary runs into legal problems, it’s usually because he or she has intentionally done something unlawful. Although sometimes an honest mistake can certainly get a Notary into hot water as an improperly notarized document can mean financial loss for the signer. Therefore, a signer has a right to seek compensatory damages.
A Notary’s action can be held accountable by the Secretary of State’s office, the district attorney’s office or in civil court. When an injured party is looking to recover financially, the channel they must go through is the civil court system. The Secretary of State’s office merely handles complaints that will only result in disciplinary action for the Notary and possibly fines and penalties, but not civil damages.
The number one complaint against Notaries is over-charging, which is easy enough to track by a Notary’s journal or a signer’s receipt. When a case involves a Notary and criminal activity, the scenario becomes more complex. Take for example Brent Mathews – a fireman/part-time estate broker, and his Notary girlfriend, Joi Smith. Together they defrauded two investors after recruiting them as partners to flip a house that didn’t belong to them. Their victims lost $146,000. Mathews put his name on the title of a property without the owner’s consent. Smith notarized the document in addition to a series of other forgeries and false filings. They were charged with forgery, three counts of attempting to file a false or forged document and two counts of grand theft. They obviously plotted an elaborate scheme. Mathews and Smith could face up to 11 years in state prison in addition to penalties and damages.
If a Notary carefully follows Notary laws, then the Notary does not need to be concerned. Notary Public Seminars, Inc. has been providing notary bonds and insurance to students over the last ten years. During that time, we have only had two claims, each under $5000. We are very proud of those statistics and take stock in the idea that an educated Notary is a safe one.