By David Thun on April 15, 2020 in Remote Online Notarization
When it comes to remote online notarization (RON), there is one question Notaries ask more than any other: How do you identify a signer who can be hundreds or even thousands of miles away while the notarization takes place? The answer depends on your state’s laws — and the technology platform being used to perform the notarization.
Can Traditional Identification Be Used For RON?
Many states that have permanent RON statutes and rules allow Notaries to identify a remote document signer using two traditional methods of identification used in paper notarizations and one new method unique to RON. These methods are personal knowledge, a credible witness, or a multi-part identity verification process.
Some states such as Virginia, Nevada, Kentucky and Michigan allow Notaries to use personal knowledge to identify a signer during a remote online notarization. Kentucky and Michigan also allow a RON signer to be identified by a credible identifying witness. In Michigan, the credible witness must personally know both the Notary and the signer (MCL 55.285).
While personal knowledge and a credible witness may be used to verify the identity of a signer for a RON in many states, these states typically do not allow a signer to produce the third, most-used type of traditional identification in paper notarizations: a single identification card or credential. Instead of allowing the signer to be identified by simply showing their driver’s license or passport, these states require the signer to pass a multi-part identity verification process. In some states, this is called “identity proofing.”
RON Identification Process
Since most experts believe it is inherently insecure to allow a signer to be identified for a RON merely by flashing an identification card on camera, many states have devised an alternative process to verify a signer’s identity that is aimed mitigating the risk of imposters standing in during a remote notarization. Some states that permit RONs require the signer to successfully pass all three of the steps described below while others require a minimum of two.
Remote ID Presentation
For a remote ID presentation, the signer must show an identification document to the Notary on camera so the Notary can read the information on the ID. The ID presented to the Notary must meet state law requirements — for example, Florida law states that the signer must remotely present a government issued identification credential to the Notary (FS 117.265). Remote ID presentation mirrors the traditional means of a signer showing their ID to the Notary for a paper notarization, but as we will see the process doesn’t stop there.
For a credential analysis, the RON technology platform will use an automated process with sophisticated algorithms to verify the security elements and information on the ID presented by the signer during remote ID presentation. The Notary will request the signer to allow the system to take a picture of the signer’s ID and transfer the image for credential analysis. If all information and security elements are present, the ID will pass. The credential analysis must comply with state standards — for example, in Texas any credential process used by a Notary for RON must be approved by the Secretary of State’s office (GC 406.101 and 1 TAC 87.1). Before you choose a RON provider, you should confirm their system meets your state’s RON requirements.
Knowledge-based authentication (KBA) requires the signer to answer a series of computer-generated questions based on the signer’s personal history, credit and financial information. These are questions only the signer reasonably could be expected to know. For example, the signer might be asked to identify among 5 choices their mortgage balance at the end of last month or an address where they have lived.
The signer must correctly answer a certain number of these questions in order to be positively identified. For example, in Utah, a signer requesting a RON must correctly answer a minimum of 4 out of 5 KBA questions (80%) in under 2 minutes. Each question must have at least 5 possible answers (UAC R623-100-5[C]). If the signer fails the first test, the signer may retake the KBA twice within 48 hours, and each of the retakes must replace 2 of the 5 questions in the previous exam. If the signer fails the second retake, the Notary must not perform the RON.
Emergency RON ID Requirements
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states have temporary emergency online notarization with identification requirements in effect that may be different from the ones described in this article. If you are commissioned in one of these states, be sure to follow all emergency rules that are contained in your state’s temporary order. Also remember that most of these emergency rules will be cancelled once the pandemic emergency is over.
David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association