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Credible Witness: When Verifying Identification Gets Tricky

A credible witness verifies identity

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Notaries have a legal obligation to verify the identity of their signers. Failing to do so can incur civil, criminal, and administrative liability. Unique situations can arise, however, where a signer’s identification cannot be easily verified. In these instances, some states permit the use of a credible witness to identify the signer.

Using a Credible Witness

A credible witness is a person who can legally guarantee the ID of the signer of a document when proper identification is not available. He or she essentially serves as a human identification card and makes it possible for the notary to execute documents even in the absence of a formal identification card. Examples of this scenario would include someone who has lost his or her identification, a minor with no identification, or an elderly or disabled person who does not have identification due to mobility issues.

Sometimes a signer has valid identification but physical appearance cannot be confirmed because of customary or religious beliefs. The notary may then respectfully request the signer to come to a separate room to reveal his or her appearance. If the person in question refuses, the notary can politely explain to the signer that the process cannot be completed without proper identification. A credible witness may then be called to verify the identification of the person.

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Credible Witness

  1. Relationship

Both the notary and the signer must know and trust the credible witness. Because the witness must be impartial, a family relationship between the signer and the credible witness would disqualify the witness.

  1. No Financial Interest

Credible witnesses must also be vetted to ensure that they do not have a special financial interest in the process. If the witness has a special interest in the transaction, then he or she could deliberately misidentify the signer for personal gain.

Responsibilities of a Credible Witness

In states that require only one credible identifying witness, the witness must know both the notary and the signer of the document personally. There must be a chain of personal knowledge from the witness to the signer to the notary.

The credible witness must sign an affidavit that states the following:

  • The individual appearing before the notary is known to the credible witness and is indeed the individual whose name is on the document in question.
  • The witness believes beyond a reasonable doubt that the signer does not have a valid ID.
  • The witness believes beyond a reasonable doubt that it is impractical or impossible for the signer in question to obtain proper identification on time.
  • The witness does not have any financial interest in and is not a party to the notarization transaction.

Some states require two credible witnesses. Both witnesses must know the signer and present valid identification. Both witnesses must also sign the affidavit.

After the credible witness has signed the affidavit, the signer in question must swear under oath that the statements are true. The notary public will complete the identification process by applying the notarial seal among other things required by the law.

When a credible witness is used to verify the identity of a signer, the notary should document the signing of the affidavit in his or her record book and include a cross-reference to the notarization for which the witness was used.

Regulations for using a credible witness vary by state. Check the requirements in your state before proceeding.

Coast 2 Coast Signings is a global signing service dedicated to providing the most convenient, efficient, and professional signing services. Our goal is to provide our clients with excellent customer service, a knowledgeable staff, and the ability to find experienced notaries wherever and whenever they are needed. Our team is on staff 24/7 to fulfill any of your signing needs. With a combined 50 years of experience, our mission is to help fulfill our clients’ needs with the utmost respect and adaptability. Coast 2 Coast is the only signing company proficient in completing signings on a global scale, on any coast and in any country.