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Identity Proofing for Remote Online Notarization

As technology continues to advance more strangers are connecting online and conducting business, sometimes never meeting in person. In the past twenty years, there’s been steady growth in technology supporting electronic commerce by capturing electronic signatures, electronic recording of public records, and electronic notarization. Since the pandemic, interest is surging in what many see as the final step in taking a real estate transaction fully digital, remote online notarization (RON). 

Many business transactions are done between virtual strangers these days, and many of them require a notary. RON offers the perfect solution to accommodate these deals between signers who may not be located in the same city, town, state, or country. 

While this opens up new opportunities for entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes to conveniently and quickly execute notarizations, many have an avalanche of questions and concerns around verifying the identity of signers. Perhaps the number one rule for notaries is to have the signer appear before you in person, so how do the rules of identity verification translate to remote signings?  

Organizations like the American Land Title Association and the Mortgage Bankers Association are pushing for standardized minimum identity proofing measures when using RON. Here’s how those standards are applied. 


Identifying a Signer for Remote Online Notarization

Even when doing an in-person traditional notarization, it’s unlikely that the signer knows the notary, so the notary must take great care to verify the signer’s identity. While conducting a remote online notarization, the notary has access to the same tools and information to confirm identity as they do in a traditional notary. 

To ensure there is no fraud, the notary is able to examine the documents to be notarized, the signer’s identification, and the notarial certificate. In ProperSign, any document errors can be corrected before performing the notarial ceremony and locking the document with a tamper-evident digital seal. 

With RON technology, there are additional standards for identity proofing you won’t find in a traditional notarization. These include: 

  • ID Scanning – government-issued IDs are quickly scanned by the software to determine their authenticity. 
  • KBA – or Knowledge-Based Authentication, is the second most common method of verifying the signer’s identity adopted by states with RON laws. In addition to capturing the driver’s license or passport and scanning it, the signer must pass a series of questions based on their credit history. 


Unfortunately, individuals without a social security number or less than three to five years of credit history are unlikely to pass this stage of the identity verification process, including minors and foreign nationals. 

While KBA and examining a government-issued ID is a common standard in most state’s RON laws, not all states require the same ID proofing methods. Instead, notaries are allowed to use other ways of confirming the signer’s identity. 

  • Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, Virginia, and Florida allow notaries to use personal knowledge. 
  • Kentucky, Virginia, and Michigan also allow credible identifying witnesses to affirm the signer’s identity. 
  • In Virginia, the notary can use two of four methods for identity proofing. One of which includes a valid digital certificate accessed by biometric data or by use of an interoperable Personal Identity Verification card.


While it’s uncommon to ask your signers to find and purchase a digital certificate, it’s a required step for notaries who want to become RON-certified.  


Digital Certificates identify the notary and secure their electronic tools

The digital certificate is specific to remote online notarization, so there is no equivalent to it in a traditional notarial ceremony. In order to perform remote online notarizations, notaries must obtain a digital certificate. In some states, the notary must also register their digital certificate with their commissioning authority. 

A trusted Certificate Authority (CA) issues the digital certificate to organizations or individuals after performing a series of identity checks. A common format and the one commonly used for RON is based on the X.509 standard. All you need to understand about this format is that it consists of a public key, digital signature, and other information about the identity of the entity or individual associated with the certificate as well as the CA. 

The digital certificate essentially works as an electronic password so when you apply your eSeal to a document, a digital algorithm ties your identity to the document, resulting in a unique “fingerprint” or “hash.” Any tampering after the fact will be evident. 

Most RON software, including ProperSign, allow the notary to set up two-factor authentication or passcodes to access a signing event or to apply an eSeal to a document, creating additional layers of identity proofing and protection. 

You can also think of digital certificates as a type of lockbox for your eSeal. Because your digital certificate is securely stored on your computer or a USB drive, no one can use it unless they have access to your computer, the USB drive, and your password tied to the digital certificate. If you do opt to store your digital certificate on a USB flash drive, take the same care to protect it as you would your traditional seal. 

Thanks to ID scanning, KBA, and digital certificates strangers can be clearly identified during a remote online notarization.

Woman at computer watching a demo of ProperSign

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Amanda Farrell

Amanda Farrell is a digital media strategist at PropLogix. She enjoys being a part of a team that gives peace of mind to consumers while making one of the biggest purchases of their lives. She lives in Sarasota with her bunny, Buster, and enjoys painting, playing guitar and mandolin, and yoga.