By Joan Bergstrom—Notaries in California are required to keep their Notary Seals/Stamps under their own personal “lock and key.” The Notary is responsible for both their Journal and Commission Seal. This secured “lock and key” requirement is normally thought to be for employees in California whose Journal and Commission Seal are purchased by their employer to be used on the employer’s premises. This requirement also includes all California Notaries not just employees. My identity theft tale is different from the normal theft because my husband and I knew the people who stole our identity.

My husband and I met a “nice” couple, Peter and Charlotte, at a private Country Club in Southern California in 1997 through some mutual friends.

They were loan officers for an escrow company and handled our loan for our new condo when we moved from Orange County. Two years later when interest rates dropped we decided to refinance. We liked the way the original loan was handled by Pete and Charlotte so we decided to use them again.

This time along with refinancing our condo, Pete and Charlotte, assuming our identities, bought their own home and became known in their new neighborhood by our names. We later heard their answering machine answered to the name “Joan Bergstrom.” Additionally, they also took a second mortgage on the house along with $60,000 they charged on an American Express Card in my name.

How did this happen you might ask? It happened because the husband of the owner of the escrow company Pete and Charlotte worked for was a Notary and did not place his Notary Seal in a locked and secure place. Pete and Charlotte forged our names to the Deed of Trust and used his Notary Seal to finish off this fraudulent real estate transaction.

Approximately one year later this fraud came to the surface. It took almost 3 years for them to be sentenced to Federal Prison for 11 months. While we didn’t sue the Notary, we certainly could have, and I am fairly sure the Notary would have lost his commission had we bought this matter to the attention of the Secretary of State. I still have one more item to clear up on my credit in order to have the credit score I had in 1999.

Bottom line: Keep your Notary Seal in a locked and secured place!