By Marlene Miller—Many title and escrow companies are requiring notary signing agents to undergo background checks to remain eligible for future work assignments from them. Fiserv Lending Solutions, Stewart Mortgage Information (a subsidiary of Stewart Title), LandAmerica, First American, and National Real Estate Information Services will not accept background checks performed as a part of the notary commissioning process or as part of any other professional licensing, such as for becoming a real estate broker.

In addition, the five companies have designated a sole provider for the background checks, the National Notary Association (NNA). The NNA has bundled the background check into a notary signing agent training and certification package.

If you have already been certified by NNA, then you can obtain only the background check, but it may cost more than you could pay elsewhere for the same check–if you were permitted to get a check elsewhere. However, if you choose to take NNA’s training and certification package to get a background check, you must then purchase their re-certification package the next time you need a background check.

To justify the background check requirement, the title companies cite the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 (GLBA), which regulates the sharing of personal information about individuals who obtain financial products or services from organizations providing financial products and services. Section 501(b) of the GLBA, known as the Safeguards Rule, requires financial institutions to have a security plan to protect the confidentiality and integrity of personal consumer information. Here’s the exact verbiage:

Section 501(b) Financial institutions safeguards
In furtherance of the policy in subsection (a) of this section, each agency or authority described in section 6805(a) of this title shall establish appropriate standards for the financial institutions subject to their jurisdiction relating to administrative, technical, and physical safeguards –

  • to insure the security and confidentiality of customer records and information;
  • to protect against any anticipated threats or hazards to the security or integrity of such records; and
  • to protect against unauthorized access to or use of such records or information which could result in substantial harm or inconvenience to any customer.

Although background checks are not mandated by the GLBA, some title companies are requiring them as part of a security plan.

Notary signing agents are not being singled out, according to the title companies. All individuals involved in the lending process with access to the private financial information of the borrowers should expect to eventually meet a similar requirement.

However, many notary signing agents are questioning the actions of these title companies. Some of their concerns include:

  • Background checks currently performed by many states for commissioning notaries and for many types of professional licensure do not meet the title companies’ requirement. These include background checks performed by the Department of Justice as well as background checks performed for high-level government security clearances.
  • Notary signing agents are a small part of the loan signing process, given the dozens of individuals who handle a customer’s personal information during the course of a signing, including the title companies themselves, loan offices, signing services, real estate offices, and courier services. And yet, signing agents are the only group required to have NNA background checks.
  • Title companies routinely send the borrower’s loan documents via unencrypted and unsecured E-mail to the notary signing agent or to signing services. That practice is more of a threat to confidentiality than a notary who has already been approved by the state as a public official.
  • Title companies ship loan documents by courier services such as FedEx and DHL, whose employees have not had the NNA background checks.
  • Title companies have not given notary signing agents any choice in selecting a provider of background checks to encourage more competitive pricing.

As notary signing agents seek to have their concerns addressed, you may want to consider your options.

  • Wait and see what happens. If you do not receive work from title companies, this may not be your battle to fight. On the other hand, title companies routinely pay better than signing services, so it might be worth your while to join in.
  • Ask for other options. Tell the title companies how you feel about being coerced into paying an exorbitant fee for a background check that you may already have. Tell them you want more choices to get the best deal for your situation, which competition would provide. As a result of feedback from hundreds of notary signing agents, some of the companies are beginning to offer alternatives. Fiserv, for example, allows notary signing agents to undergo their in-house background check, and it’s good for three years.
  • Add it to your fees. For a company requiring the NNA background check, recoup the cost of it with the fees you charge the company when you receive work from them.
  • Support other initiatives. Use a search engine such as Google to find “notary signing agent” sites and read them to see if they are offering any alternatives. Notary Rotary is one such site. There may be others.