Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Virginia Electronic Notary

What is an electronic notarization (e-notarization)? 

Electronic notarization is a process whereby a notary affixes an electronic notary signature and seal information to an electronic document (such as a PDF or Word document). Once affixed to the electronic document, the document is rendered tamper evident such that unauthorized attempts to alter the document will be evident to relying parties. The Electronic Notary also must keep an electronic register of each act performed. (See Am I required to keep an electronic register of my electronic notarial acts? below.)

An Electronic Notary may electronically notarize a document in person or online using audio-video conference technology.

What is an electronic document?

We use electronic documents every day in business and personal affairs. Most of us are familiar with popular electronic document formats such as PDF or Microsoft Word, but an electronic document can also take the form of any electronic data in computer-readable form, such as an email message, a web page or an electronic image.

What is an electronic signature?

Most persons use some type of electronic signature every day. For example, when we click a “Submit” button to purchase a product online, we are signing electronically. Technically speaking, an electronic signature is a symbol or process attached to or logically associated with an electronic document and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the document. Other examples of common electronic signatures take the form of an “I accept” button on a web site agreement or a physical signature on an electronic signature pad, commonly used at retail stores when paying for products.

Sometimes the term “digital signature” is used interchangeably with “electronic signature.” A digital signature, however, is really just a type of electronic signature. Digital signatures involve public and private key encryption that is used to secure an electronic document or electronic message from unauthorized tampering. A discussion of digital signatures is beyond the scope of this set of Frequently Asked Questions, but any commercial digital signature provider (such as IdenTrust, GeoTrust or VeriSign, among many others) can assist you with more technical questions regarding the function and purpose of digital signatures.

What is an electronic notary signature and seal?

In traditional paper notarization, a notary signs a notarial certificate with a pen and affixes a seal in the form of a rubber stamp or embosser. The seal conveys important information about the notary such that relying parties can know, for example, the name of the notary, the notary’s commission expiration date and other pertinent facts.

An electronic notary’s signature and seal performs that same basic function, but the notary can adopt any form of electronic signature that conforms to the definition stated above. For example, the electronic notary signature may take the form of the notary’s typewritten name, an image of the electronic notary’s handwritten signature or the notary’s seal information displayed on an electronic document.

The notary’s electronic seal is simply text that appears on an electronic document and that must include, at minimum, the notary’s name as it appears on his commission, the notary’s jurisdiction (i.e., the Commonwealth of Virginia), the notary’s registration number, and the notary’s commission expiration date.

In addition, and just as with paper notarizations, every electronic document bearing an electronic notary’s signature and seal must state the date the notarial act was performed, the county or city and state in which it was performed, and text that states the date of the expiration of his commission in substantially the following form: "My commission expires the ______ day of _____________, ___________".

As already stated, the notary’s electronic signature and seal must be independently verifiable – such that relying parties can determine the validity of the signature and seal independent of the notary – and must be tamper evident such that subsequent and unauthorized changes or modifications to the electronic document will be evident to relying parties through visual examination of the electronic document.

What is the difference between an electronic notarization and my current pen and paper notarization?

The only real difference is the tool used to perform the notarial act. In a traditional paper notarization, a pen and a rubber stamp are the tools of the notary’s trade. For an electronic notarization, the notary must use a computer and appropriate computer software and/or hardware.

Generally speaking all other steps and procedures of notarization remain the same. The signer appears before the notary to request a notarization, and the notary identifies the signer, completes a notarial certificate and affixes the electronic notary signature and seal.

An Electronic Notary may electronically notarize a document in the physical presence of the signer; alternately the Electronic Notary may perform notarial acts online using audio-video conference technology.

What other equipment will I need in order to electronically notarize documents?

There may be other equipment such as a signature pad, scanning capability or other software and hardware that you might need and should familiarize yourself with. Your electronic notary solution provider or employer can assist you and provide training.

How long does my electronic notary commission last?

The electronic notary commission will expire on the same date the notary’s regular commission expires. The electronic notary commission will need to be renewed at the same time the notary commission is renewed.

Is personal appearance required in an electronic notary act?

No.  An Electronic Notary may electronically notarize a document in the physical presence of the signer, however an approved Virginia Electronic Notary may alternately perform acts online using audio-video conference technology.

Can an electronic notary take an acknowledgment online by audio/video conferencing?

Yes.  An approved Virginia Electronic Notary may perform notarial acts online using audio-video conference technology.

Can an electronic notary take an acknowledgment by phone or fax?

No.

What are the electronic notarial acts a Virginia electronic notary is authorized to perform?

The following types of notarial acts may be performed electronically:

  • Take acknowledgments;
  • Administer oaths and affirmations (e.g., jurats);
  • Certify affidavits or depositions;
  • Certify “true copies” of documents;
  • Perform a verification of fact.

Am I required to keep an electronic register of my electronic notarial acts?

Yes.

A notary performing electronic notarial acts shall keep, maintain, protect, and provide for lawful inspection an electronic record of notarial acts that contains at least the following for each notarial act performed:

  1. the date and time of day of the notarial act;
  2. the type of notarial act;
  3. the type, title, or a description of the document or proceeding;
  4. the printed name and address of each principal or signer;
  5. the evidence of identity of each principal in the form of either a statement that the person is personally known to the notary, a notation of the type of identification document presented by the principal/signer, which may be a copy of the driver's license or other photographic image of the individual's face, or the printed name and address of each credible witness swearing or affirming to the person's identity, and, for credible witnesses who are not personally known to the notary or electronic notary, a description of the type of identification documents relied on by the notary; and
  6. the fee, if any, charged for the notarial act.
  7. if the notary uses video and audio conference technology authorized under VOC § 47.1-2 and the principal's identity has been ascertained upon presentation of satisfactory evidence of identity pursuant to VOC § 47.1-2, the electronic notary shall keep a copy of the recording of the video and audio conference and a notation of the type of any other identification used.

It is a requirement of law that every electronic notary shall take reasonable steps to

  1. ensure the integrity, security, and authenticity of electronic notarizations,
  2. maintain a backup for his electronic record of notarial acts, and
  3. ensure protection of such backup records from unauthorized use.

The electronic record of an electronic notarial act must be maintained for a period of at least five years from the date the notarial act was performed and recorded in the notary’s electronic register.

Can I use a different name for my electronic notarization registration than what I use for my regular notary commission?

No. The name used on the initial notary commission is the same one a notary must use to register their capability to perform electronic notarizations.

How do I identify a principal signer in an electronic notary act? 

The method of positive identification is generally the same for both paper-based and electronic notarial acts.

However, a signer requesting an electronic notarization may also be identified by:

  • an antecedent in-person identity proofing process in accordance with the specifications of the Federal Bridge Certification Authority, or
  • a valid digital certificate accessed by biometric data or by use of an interoperable Personal Identity Verification card that is designed, issued, and managed in accordance with the specifications published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 201-1, "Personal Identity Verification (PIV) of Federal Employees and Contractors," and supplements thereto or revisions thereof.

Is additional notary education required to become an electronic notary? 

There is no additional notary education required to become an electronic notary. However, the Secretary of the Commonwealth strongly suggests that you read and understand the Handbook for Virginian Notaries Public, which can be found on the website www.Commonwealth.Virginia.gov

In addition, you may need training to use the new electronic process or tools from your vendor or employer.

How do I apply to become an electronic-enabled Notary Public?

Click here for the Electronic Notary Application Instructions. 

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