Signatures. Fraud. Passports. Notarial Musings

Signatures. Fraud. Passports. Notarial Musings.

I think we can all agree that if everyone in the world were honest, there would be no need for the Notarial profession. Or any Lawyers, probably.

In that Utopia, every signature would be unforged and every contract genuine, and accepted by the signatories as genuine for ever after.

In the world we actually inhabit, not so much.

So we need Notaries, to witness the making of signatures. To be able to give evidence afterwards, of what took place, and who signed what. To check that the signer is not trembling with fear, in the presence of third parties making threats. To check that the signer is in their right mind, is old enough, and so on.

So the starting point is, that unwitnessed signatures are unreliable.

After all, with a bit of practice, I could make a mark which would look just like your signature. And you could write mine. And so on. Indeed, one of the first lessons a handwriting expert will teach, is that an honest person never makes two signatures exactly the same.

OK, we all agree then, signatures unwitnessed, – not much use.

When you next renew or obtain a British Passport, you will find that it no longer contains a print of the signature you made when you applied for it.

The thinking behind this – shall I say, the “thinking” behind this – is explained on the Government website as “an essential development for improving HM Passport Office’s online application service, by removing the need for customers [yes that’s right, customers. George Orwell might as well never have happened] to send signed paper forms and printed photographs when they apply for passports”.

Ok, so I have just looked online to see how to get a passport on line. The steps are – fill in the application, pay by card, then PRINT a Declaration form and SIGN it and post it off. By snail, just like Granddad used to.

So the removal of the need to send signed paper is not actually a thing. Perhaps the intention is that one day it will be.

I still don’t get it though, do you? If we are computer literate enough to apply online, then presumably we know how to upload a photo of our faces? And possibly the best of us can figure out how to upload a photo of our signatures. So that means the Passport office will still have a digital version of a signature which it could attach to the new passport, just like last year?

Am I being slow? Please enlighten me.

So anyway, now we have our new passport, there is no signature on it and we need to sign it.

I am presented with passports several times a day, because whenever I notarise for you, I need to be satisfied of your identity, best proven by your passport.

Guess what? None of the new passports I have been shown, have been signed by the Holder.

I also notice that when I am paid by credit cards, mostly they have not been signed either. People don’t bother, by and large. The signature card was vulnerable to forgery [see above!] so we use PINs instead.

So when I am given an unsigned passport, I suggest to my client that they should sign the passport, because that’s what the Gov. site says, – Link Here.

What I have failed to find out, is why? Why must there be a signature on a passport? What does it prove? Especially when, if you are a child, or have suffered a stroke, you are excused signing. But children and patients can still have a passport. You are still “You”, and you can still travel.

And of course, this change has opened a new category of fuss and nonsense.

Travel chat rooms are full of worried folk who signed in the “wrong place”.

Or, “The website says, use black-ink ball point pen. I have used blue ink. Can I still travel?”

And one further question to address is, what is a signature anyway?

American passports are also issued unsigned, and with a guidance that you should “sign your full name”.

That is an oxymoron if your signature is just an initial then an amorphous squiggle. Because if you follow the advice and sign, it’s not your full name. And if you follow the advice and write your full name then it’s not your signature, or at any rate not your usual signature.

And the USA guidance is, do NOT use a ball point pen. Which on one hand is sensible, because ballpoint ink is more easily removed than black fountain pen or gel ink. But, on the other hand blue fountain pen ink is usually washable!

Out in the real world, away from silly rules, people are using unsigned passports and travelling from country to country. Usually the border officials don’t notice. When they do, they suggest that you sign your passport when convenient, and wave you through the gate.

So what is it actually for, this signature, once we can identify who needs to make one and who is exempt and what a signature even is, full name or squiggle, what colour and what kind of ink?

If you work at the Passport office, get in touch and give us a clue.

But one new pitfall arising is that the beloved Foreign and Commonwealth Office has decided that a certified copy of a passport cannot be stamped with an Apostille, if the original passport is unsigned. Because that would be – what? Illegal? Again, why?

But if you are a bureaucrat, faced with one more reason to refuse to issue your stamp – well you wouldn’t say no. Link here

For advice on all of these matters and for all the usual foreign dealings too, – as always – you can contact me or Louise here at AtkinsonNotary E7 Joseph’s Well Leeds LS3 1AB, phone 0113 8160116 and email or via the website