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 •