If you were born and raised in the United States, you might already know the difference between a notary and a lawyer. If you were born anywhere else in the world, you might not.
The Pennsylvania Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts (RULONA) [57 Pa. C.S. §301-331] defines a notary public as a person who is ONLY authorized to witness the signature of forms. Anyone can be a notary, as long as they are over the age of 18 and they can read and write English.
In other parts of the world, such as Latin American and most countries where Spanish is the main language, a notary public or notario public is someone who has received a law license after many years of education and who is authorized to represent others before the courts and the government in his or her country.
For many people moving to the United States this can be a very confusing matter. You will see someone using the term “notario público” to advertise their services in the Hispanic community. These “notarios” won’t tell you that they are not authorized to provide legal services. Very often they take advantage of people from our community, taking their money without really intending to help them in any way. They will promise you low-cost, quick results for everything from divorce, to citizenship or green card renewals, but the truth is they cannot practice law in Pennsylvania. If a “notario” ever tells you they are qualified to help you with your immigration paperwork beyond witnessing your signature, or that they can draft your will, file your divorce or prepare a rent-to-own a home agreement, they are committing fraud.
The most important thing for you to remember is: It is against the law for notaries to provide you with any legal services. Notaries are NOT authorized to draft legal documents, offer you legal advice, assist you in understanding legal documents or represent you before the courts or the government.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of notary fraud, please call The Notary Fraud Project at 215-733-0878. You can also call the Office of Attorney General and file a consumer complaint at 717-787-9707.
If you or someone you know is in need of legal assistance you can call The Berks County Bar Association at 610-375-4591 to obtain a consultation for $40. You can also call Mid Penn Legal Aid at 1-800-326-9177 for free legal assistance on civil matters or the Public Defender at 610-478-6650 for free legal assistance on criminal matters.
By: Ana T. Lopez Vives, Berks County Bar Association Community Service Manager