Many countries have the concept of a "notary public." Their training and authority varies from country to country; in the United States, their primary role is to witness the signature of legal documents. Many important legal documents require notarization in addition to a signature, primarily as a security device.
When I get a document notarized, I present my photo ID to a notary public. Generally, I go to my local bank, where many of the employees are notary publics and I don't have to pay a fee for the service. I sign the document while the notary watches, and he then signs an attestation to the fact that he saw me sign it. He doesn't read the document; that's not his job. And then I send my notarized document to whoever needed it: another bank, the patent office, my mortgage company, whatever.
It's an eminently hackable system. Sure, you can always present a fake ID -- I'll bet my bank employee has never seen a West Virginia driver's license, for example -- but that takes work. The easiest way to hack the system is through social engineering.
Bring a small pile of documents to be notarized. In the middle of the pile, slip in a document with someone else's signature. Since he's busy with his own signing and stamping -- and you're engaging him in slightly distracting conversation -- he's probably not going to notice that he's notarizing something "someone else" signed. If he does, apologize for your honest mistake and try again elsewhere.
Of course, you're better off visiting a notary who charges by the document: he'll be more likely to appreciate the stack of documents you've brought to him and less likely to ask questions. And pick a location -- not like a bank -- that isn't filled with security cameras.
Of course, this won't be enough if the final recipient of the document checks the signature; you're on your own when it comes to forgery. And in my state the notary has to keep a record of the document he signs; this one won't be in his records if he's ever asked. But if you need to switch the deed on a piece of property, change ownership of a bank account, or give yourself power of attorney over someone else, hacking the notary system makes the job a lot easier.
Anyone know how often this kind of thing happens in real life?
Posted on November 29, 2006 at 7:19 AM • 78 Comments