Can I Pass the Test?

May 26, 2020


Hi, this is Laura with Coach Me Laura and At Your Service Mobile Notary.

Today, I'd like to talk to you about background checks.

I'm asked frequently about them. What are they? What are they searching for? Why do I have to have one? I've already had one to become a notary. Why do I need another one? Can I do the work without one? So let's talk about that a little bit.

Did you know that not all states require background checks to even become a notary? Actually not that many states have that requirement. And most of them that have the requirement, they only have to do it one time for the life of the commission. If they have back to back commissions, they could do one for 20 years and never have to submit another one. So now we know that not everybody who gets to become a notary has all the same requirements.

Some have training, some don't, some have testing, some don't. Some have background screens, some don't. So how do we know that we can be trusted to handle the public's personal and confidential financial information? That's why in 2008, California changed theirs to have background screening from once in a lifetime to every renewal. So that's a cost of becoming a notary that we bear now as a loan signing agent. It's a little different to be acceptable to most signing companies and title companies and our industry. We have to obtain a background check annually. And this is tied into our being certified as a loan signing agent.

So some notaries like myself have to go through two different background screens, one to become a notary. And there are certain databases that are designated to be searched, FBI and DOJ for a notary. And I need to pass that. And then when I became an NSA, I have a whole new set of databases that are checked for me to hold that designation. When I started in 2004, there wasn't a formal certification. I didn't have to have a separate background check to handle loan documents. I just took care of the job. Of course, we know there were a lot of issues back then. And even in California, particularly back in 2008, we had around 300,000 plus notaries and there were a lot of felons on the rolls and that needed to be changed.

There were new requirements that were published by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, also known as CFPB, to protect signers from fraud. Now these requirements were interpreted - the requirement didn't say notaries need background checks - but what it did say is that employees and any third party vendors needed to go through some kind of training and or screening to verify that they were appropriate to be handling the public's information.

So where do we get the background checks that we need to hold that certification? Well, there are two major ones. The National Notary Association is one, and Sterling is the other one. They're both widely recognized. They both meet or exceed the standards required by Fidelity National Title Group, and they control the bulk of the industry. The cost is around $55 or more. So I'm even curious about what they're checking on you and how far back does this information go? Well about seven to 10 years. Obviously some of us are older. We have a little more history than others.

Here's a list of searches that are conducted when you submit a background check to be an NSA. So we'll start with the Social Security Number trace. Then we have numerous criminal databases. We have the county criminal court search, statewide criminal search, federal district criminal search, nationwide criminal search, the motor vehicle search, and the national sex offender database search.

We've got the USA Patriot Act, including the terrorist watch list, the United nations named terrorist list, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, Specially Denied Persons or blocked persons, the Department of Defense Trade Controls, Debarred Parties. Then we have several that are from the US Bureau of Industry and Security. There's the Unverified Entry, Denied Entry and Denied Persons list. And then we have the World Bank list of Debarred firms. That is a lot of checking going on!

So, could you pass all these criminal database searches and still fail to get your certification? The answer is yes, and it has to do with the motor vehicle records. You know you're not a criminal because you have a speeding ticket, but if you've got several of them, or you have a DUI, those have points that have been associated with them and if you have 25 points or more, you don't pass, you'll have to wait for something to come off your record.

Also, if you passed all but one of the criminal databases searches, that could be an automatic disqualification. Remember the idea is we're handling the public's confidential financial information, starting with downloading it, printing it, driving it to the signing, and ultimately we maintain responsibility for those documents until we hand it off to a shipping center. So complying and passing the background check is one of the ways we demonstrate can be trusted to handle their sensitive information.

I'm sometimes asked, can I notarize loan documents without being certified? The answer is yes. That is possible. Sometimes a lender will send the package directly to the consumer and tell them to get their own notary and they'll go to a shipping center. And most shipping center notaries are not NSA's. Now here's the big difference. They won't be collecting signatures, presenting documents. They're going to say, show me what you need notarized. And they'll notarize individual documents just like any other document that they might notarize. They're not downloading, they're not presenting, they're not doing any of that work. So it is possible to do that.

If a neighbor or a family friend of yours said, Hey, could you notarize my loan package? If the title company is accepting of that, yes, that could be done. However, background checks are an important safeguard for the public to ensure that notaries who are charged with protecting their personal identifying information have integrity to carry out the responsibilities. Complying with that shows you understand the bigger picture of protecting clients. And it is a cost of doing business. So there's your story about background checks. Be safe.

And until the next time.



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