Stewart Title Guaranty Company (“Stewart”) is committed to our partners and providing solutions to allow agents and Stewart Issuing Offices to continue closing and insuring transactions. During the last two years COVID-19 has impacted real estate transactions, and in the interest of providing our Issuing Offices the tools necessary to provide service to their customers, we continue to monitor the situation and provide updates regarding the use of Remote Online Notarization (“RON”).
State law has been rapidly changing and many states have passed RON legislation and the states that have not passed RON legislation may soon authorize RON. Issuing Offices must exercise diligence when asked to insure documents notarized by RON given the variety of state laws and the unique issues presented by RON in the real estate context. This Bulletin advises you of the Company's current requirements involving RON real estate transactions where knowledge-based authentication ("KBA") as an identity verification step cannot be used (which often occurs in transactions with Non-US Citizens without Social Security Numbers Signing Documents Outside of the United States of America). These requirements may be supplemented by state-specific bulletins.
One of Stewart’s approved vendors is NotaryCam for providing RON signings for transactions insured by Stewart (See Bulletin SLS2020003). NotaryCam has instituted a requirement that a request for a RON closing where biometrics must be used as an identity-verification tool in lieu of KBA must be approved by a Stewart Underwriter. In response to NotaryCam’s requirements for approval by a Stewart Underwriter, any Stewart State Counsel, Associate Senior Underwriter, Senior Underwriter or Centralized Title & National Agency Underwriter are authorized to approve these transactions for any Stewart RON approved Platform Vendor. A list of Stewart Underwriters is available at https://www.stewart.com/en/legal-contacts/underwriting-counsel.html.
NotaryCam’s customary process to verify the identification of a person signing documents using remote online notarization (Signer) is to use credential analysis (utilizing software to verify an identification card) and KBA wherein the signer is asked to answer several questions about themselves pulled from public and private databases. In some instances, KBA cannot be used to verify a signer’s identity because:
- The Signer is not a US citizen and does not have a Social Security Number on which KBA is based;
- KBA questions cannot be generated on the Signer, due to insufficient credit history;
- The Signer’s name is so common that none of the KBA questions apply, even after several attempts;
- The Signer fails KBA. While this sounds like an automatic disqualification, it is possible that KBA questions used were something that the Signer just doesn’t remember.
Where the circumstances are one of the above (Non KBA Transactions), but the parties wish to proceed with the transaction, then NotaryCam or any other Stewart RON approved Platform Vendor may utilize biometric software to help verify the identity of the Signer. Biometric tools are allowed under the laws of certain states as valid identity verification, just like KBA. In Non KBA Transactions, NotaryCam or any other Stewart RON approved Platform Vendor may choose to move the transaction to a notary located in a state which allows for the use of biometrics and proceed with the biometric identification tools in the RON process. If the Signer does not pass biometrics or credential analysis, then the transaction will be stopped in accordance with Stewart’s policies.
In considering whether to allow for the use of biometrics in a particular transaction, Stewart Underwriters may review a number of factors such as:
- Reason or reasons that KBA is not being used;
- Location of the property;
- Location of the Signer (lately, there has been an increase in fraudulent transactions whereby a fraudster impersonates foreign signers located outside of the United States purporting to sell a property owned in the U.S.);
- Amount of the transaction.
In addition, an OFAC and Stewart Special Alert search must be run on the Signer by the office requesting the RON approval and the search results is to be maintained in the file. If the Signer’s name is a “hit” on either of these searches, the procedures relating to a “hit” are to be followed before RON can be authorized. The procedures for special alerts can be found on Virtual Underwriter at the following link https://www.virtualunderwriter.com/en/special-alerts.html.
This Bulletin is not intended to direct your closing practices or to change the provisions of our underwriting agreements. Escrow and settlement services are outside the scope of our agency contract. You must seek the advice of your own legal counsel in making all decisions pertaining to escrow and closing matters under state and federal law. As a reminder, all independent agencies must have all necessary licenses for escrow, closing, and title as required by state law and a valid underwriting agreement with the Company in each state where the Issuing Office is doing business.
If you have any questions relating to this or other bulletins, please contact a Stewart Title Guaranty Company underwriter.
For on-line viewing of this and other bulletins, please log onto www.vuwriter.com.