Making an Inquiry or Complaint Regarding a Notary Public
If you believe a notary public has acted in violation of the law, there are several ways to contact us about the problem.
- Complete the General Complaint Form to report the problem. The form is an online fillable PDF document and may be filled out online using Acrobat Reader. Click on the link to access the form online. After completing the form, print it and deliver it to the Secretary of State's Office.
- Contact our staff via e-mail at email@example.com for assistance.
- Call the Notary Public division at (304) 558-8000 or toll free at 1-877-826-2954 to discuss the problem or question.
Your cooperation and information is important to help improve notary practice and stop fraud.
Administrative Enforcement by the Secretary of State
Warnings for Incorrect Practices
A warning is usually given and made part of the notary's record when a notary acts incorrectly but there is no apparent intention of fraud.
For example, the Secretary of State's Office receives many documents for authentication or filing which are not properly notarized. Not only must the customer have the document done over to make the correction, but the notary will be warned, and repeated problems could result in stronger action.
Investigation and Administrative Hearing
When a serious violation is suspected, the Secretary of State's Office may conduct an investigation of the circumstances. This usually follows a complaint by an injured party.
If it appears from the investigation that the notary participated in fraud or allowed others to commit fraud, an administrative hearing may be requested. In a hearing, a hearing examiner is appointed to hear the charges and evidence from the investigation and the notary has the opportunity to be represented by legal counsel and defend the allegations.
Revocation of a Commission
When the hearing process is complete, the Secretary of State reviews the record and determines whether to take further action, and may revoke, suspend or condition a notary commission if one of the reasons specified in West Virginia Code §39-4-21 is substantiated by the evidence at the hearing. The Governor is also authorized to revoke a commission.
Depending on the severity of the violation, the case may be referred to the county prosecuting attorney for further action.
Injunction for Practicing Law Without A License
The Attorney General may seek an injunction in circuit court against any notary public who is not a licensed attorney who practices law without a license. The State Bar may intervene, or may on its own seek an injunction.
Any notary who is not an attorney should be aware that drafting legal documents is considered practicing law, and should reject any requests to help prepare any agreement, will, deed or any other legal document for signing and notarization. Also, notaries are not authorized to prepare vehicle title transfers.
Adding the acknowledgement or oath form for notarization is not preparing the document itself, and the notary has the responsibility to add that form if it is not already present.
Civil Action for Damages
When a notary commits official misconduct, a person who is injured financially may file a civil suit for the damages caused by that misconduct. When the notary is an employee and performing the notarization in question in connection with work, and if that notary's employer consented to the official misconduct, then the employer is also liable under the law. [West Virginia Code §39-4-32]
Criminal misdemeanor charges may be brought against a notary public for official misconduct [West Virginia Code §39-4-33]. The penalty for "knowingly and willfully" committing official misconduct is a fine of up to $5,000 and a sentence of up to one year in jail, or both fined and confined.
A notary public who "recklessly or negligently" commits any official misconduct is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be fined not more than $1,000.
The term "official misconduct" means "any act or conduct that:
(1) May result in the denial, refusal to renew, revocation, suspension or condition commission of a notary public pursuant to West Virginia State Code §39-4-21; or
(2) Is prohibited by West Virginia State Code §39-4-23."
Any person who "acts as, or otherwise willfully impersonates," a notary public while not lawfully appointed and commissione to perform notarial acts is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be fined not more than $5,000 or confined in jail not more than one year, or both fined and confined.
Any person who "unlawfully possesses a notary's official seal or any papers or copies relating to notarial acts," is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be fined not more than $1,000.
These penalties relate only to the conduct as a notary public, and would not limit or prevent prosecution on more serious charges of fraud or other violations.