Notary Public Monroe NC
Americans use their smartphones and mobile devices for conducting many aspects of life and using apps has become second nature to most of us.
Unfortunately for notaries, app use may also involve their notary clients. Because of this and other reasons, today’s article will focus on possible pitfalls that apps and devices can cause for notaries.
When using apps, be mindful of protecting your and your clients’ non-public private information. The American Association of Notaries isn’t against the responsible use of new technologies, devices, or apps, but we know there may be hazards and we want you to have the best experience possible in your notary public role.
1-Always protect your device and information with a password, PIN, or fingerprint.
For obvious reasons, at least one of these methods should be used on every notary’s smartphone and other devices. Not securing your device could be devastating to you and your clients if the device is lost or stolen.
2-Keep in mind that mobile device app developers aren’t responsible for upholding your notary laws -- you are.Don’t download notary apps without being thoughtful about how the use of an app can affect your signers.
As a general rule, most attorneys don’t even know the nuances of notary laws in all fifty states, so it’s not a stretch to say that an app developer may not be prepared to adhere to every state’s notary laws when creating an app for notary use. In some states, laws that govern notaries are buried in several sections of a state’s laws and not just in one section under a bold title like Notary Public Act. Therefore, it is easy to overlook a subtly stated law in a section relating to real estate or business and finance rather than being codified in the state’s primary notary statutes.
3-Become a notary law scholar before using notary apps. To ensure you aren’t operating in conflict with your laws by using certain apps, study every attorney general’s opinion that affects notaries, understand every law in your state that affects your duties, and consult with an expert on your state’s notary laws about the functions of apps that may cause you to perform unauthorized actions.
You should also contact your notary public administrator and ask for an opinion. If you find no opposition from any of the above, you’re probably safe to proceed.
4-Use of Google Translate apps doesn’t replace direct communication with clients. Technology is grand, but it doesn’t replace direct communication with a non-English speaking signer. If you must refuse to perform a notarial act due to a language barrier, Google Translate could be used to explain to the client why the notarial act has to be refused, but not for the purpose of conducting a notarization.
Google Translate is a temptingly clever online tool that translates written phrases from one language into just about any language in the world and vice versa. Google Translate’s app for Android and iOS mobile devices allows users to speak a phrase into the device and the app returns a translation of the phrase spoken aloud in another language. Users can also type or scan text into the app. Unfortunately, the use of Google’s convenient language tools doesn’t replace direct communication between notaries and clients and many users find that they aren’t consistently accurate.
Ensure that you can communicate directly and clearly with all clients; don’t attempt to use Google Translate, a language handbook stored on your device, or an interpreter in the performance of your notarial duties. (Notably, Arizona notaries are allowed by law to use interpreters to bridge the language gap between them and their clients. No other state’s laws include a provision for the use of an interpreter.)
5-Know what permissions you are giving an app and why you are giving them. Extreme Tech reports that 17% of all Android apps are malware and suggests that users should stick with downloading apps from the Google Play Store because Google stays vigilant to scan and remove malicious apps. Apple has a process to do likewise, but last year, Apple removed 250 info-thieving apps from its iTunes shelves. Ultimately, as a notary, you are responsible for what you download and allow on your devices if you use them to work with clients.
Some apps are designed to snag information from your device for the purpose of marketing to you with advertisements. There are also apps designed for worse reasons. From Kim Komando, known technology and security expert:
“Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University recently analyzed the Google Play store's top 100 apps operations, terms and conditions. They found the following 10 requested the most access to your smartphone or tablet's hardware: Backgrounds HD Wallpaper, Brightest Flashlight, Dictionary.com, Google Maps, Horoscope, Mouse Trap, Pandora, Shazam, Talking Tom Virtual Pet.
It makes sense that Google Maps needs your location and song-identifying Shazam needs access to your microphone, but why does a virtual pet, dictionary or wallpaper app need anything like that? Both iOS and Android have built-in flashlights, so you don't even need an app.”
One of the most puzzling permission requests by a notary app that we uncovered while conducting research for this article was to access the notary’s microphone and Wi-Fi information and to be able to obtain the name of all of the user’s computers and devices attached to any Wi-Fi network connected to the device. There’s no reason for that type of information to be collected by an app.
Experts suggest that it’s not easy to remove an infection possibly caused by an app you downloaded that has nefarious intentions and the best plan is to restore the device to its factory settings.
6-Do extensive research and read all reviews before you buy a device at a cheap price. Recently, reports have surfaced that cheap off-brand tablets may be full of malware. 17,000 tablets were sold on one major retailer’s website, but this could be true of any retailer. A Trojan horse called “Cloudsota” was preinstalled on the $40 Android tablets. Cloudsota enables remote control of infected devices and conducts malicious activities without the user’s knowledge. Researchers said they are confident the hackers behind the Cloudsota malware are in China, as the tablets are manufactured there and much of the code is written in Chinese.
7-Use caution if a notary app suggests recording a conversation or storing images of ID documents. You don’t have to do anything that an app suggests! Use only those functions of apps that your laws allow. Proceed with special care before you acquiesce to an app’s suggestion that you snap pictures of ID documentation or faces or that you record a signer’s voice as convenient methods of maintaining journal entries and proving the signer appeared before you.
Notaries in all states are prohibited from making a copy of a military ID or other federal ID card according to U.S. Code, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 33, Section 701. Don’t allow an app to collect a copy of one. At least one state forbids storing in a journal the numbers from a signer’s ID card, driver license, or passport.
8-Avoid photographing ID documents with your phone at loan signing appointments. When a notary signing agent encounters borrowers who don’t have copies of their ID documents to send back with a loan package and the signing agent is supposed to collect a copies of them, it would be so easy to snap a picture with your phone, print it out, and send it with the package. However, a better strategy to ensure the borrowers’ privacy might be to suggest that they take the pictures themselves and email or fax them to their loan officer or the title company so that you and your phone won’t cause a breach of their privacy rights.
9-Have proper policies in place for lost or stolen devices. Consider installing a locator app and a remote wipe app on your device before it’s lost or stolen. Make sure you choose one that is approved or recommended by your device manufacturer or cellular service provider.
If your phone or device is missing, you can locate it using another device or computer and see if it’s been left at your office or your friend’s house or if it’s somewhere that it shouldn’t be, which may indicate that the device has been stolen. By having a remote wipe app, you can remotely clean off all information on a missing or stolen device.
Minimize your loss and liability by taking these steps as soon as you detect the device is missing or that it is where it should not be:
- Wipe your phone immediately.
- Contact the police and file a report.
- Contact your cellular provider and have the account locked.If you are keeping a notary record book on your device, be mindful of the way losses of paper journals are handled. If necessary, contact your state’s notary public administrator to explain that your device was stolen, advise them that the phone was wiped and when, and describe the period of time the journal may have been exposed. Assure them that the information is backed up on the app vendor’s server or your own computer (if it was).
10-Develop a policy for using an app to scan documents after signing appointments. If you use an app to scan and email (or fax) documents after loan signing appointments by either snapping a picture or connecting to a mobile scanner, ensure you delete the documents after you send them to the title company or lender.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but notaries may not use these types of apps regularly and this could be one of those tasks that slips through the crack.
We’d love to know of your unique experiences with technology, good or bad!