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  #1  
Old 06-16-2011, 08:22 PM
Argent Towers Argent Towers is offline
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Can you forge someone's signature *with their permission*? Why are signatures still needed anyway?

I'm really confounded by the fact that in this day and age, when everything has gone digital, it's still SO necessary to have someone's physical signature on things.

For instance:

Say you purchased a small inflatable watercraft, used, from a private seller. Then it turns out that you need to register it at the BMV in order to use it with an electric motor. You have no bill of sale; it never occurred to you that you would need one for this. The BMV gives you a bill of sale form, tells you to get it signed by the seller, and then come back.

"Can this be handled over the phone?"

"No. You need to have the seller's physical signature on the paper."

You call the guy who sold it to you, who lives an hour and a half away. He gives you permission to just write his signature on the bill of sale - in other words, forge it.

This can't be legal though, can it? And, if not, why? Why is it so incredibly important for the BMV to have this guy's actual physical signature on the paper?

I don't get it. EVERYTHING is digital now. This insistence on signatures seems so primitive.
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  #2  
Old 06-16-2011, 08:42 PM
chorpler chorpler is online now
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Well, my department's guy-who-handles-interfacing-with-the-HR-department had me send him an e-mail giving him permission to sign my contract paperwork for me, since he had to sign it while I was away and my contract expired. He said "I signed it for you, just send me an e-mail giving me authorization to do so, because HR will want that."

So I would get some kind of e-mail or other written proof that he authorized you to do so, since I would imagine the only time you'd get in trouble is if he started claiming that you forged it without permission... not a really "GQ" answer, but hey, if it's okay to do it at a big public university, it must be okay for a private watercraft sale, right?
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  #3  
Old 06-16-2011, 09:02 PM
Argent Towers Argent Towers is offline
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Is there some database of signatures that they check all signed documents like bills of sale against at the BMV? Or do they just assume the signature is correct, on the "honor system"? If the latter, then I ask again, what is the point of doing it at all?
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  #4  
Old 06-16-2011, 09:07 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chorpler View Post
Well, my department's guy-who-handles-interfacing-with-the-HR-department had me send him an e-mail giving him permission to sign my contract paperwork for me, since he had to sign it while I was away and my contract expired. He said "I signed it for you, just send me an e-mail giving me authorization to do so, because HR will want that."

So I would get some kind of e-mail or other written proof that he authorized you to do so, since I would imagine the only time you'd get in trouble is if he started claiming that you forged it without permission... not a really "GQ" answer, but hey, if it's okay to do it at a big public university, it must be okay for a private watercraft sale, right?
I used to do stuff like that. If we needed an official signature at work, I'd call my boss (or somebody higher if necessary) to get their authorization. Then I'd sign the actual document with my name and a notation I had signed it with their authorization.
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  #5  
Old 06-16-2011, 09:09 PM
Inner Stickler Inner Stickler is offline
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Probably so that in case of fraud the court could compare that signature with signatures from other documents known to be signed by the seller.
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  #6  
Old 06-16-2011, 09:26 PM
Sal Ammoniac Sal Ammoniac is offline
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I'm told by a constable I've used for eviction notices and such that the scenario in the OP is perfectly okay. So long as the person being signed for is prepared to acknowledge the signature as his or her own, then you're good.
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  #7  
Old 06-16-2011, 09:44 PM
Argent Towers Argent Towers is offline
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Originally Posted by Sal Ammoniac View Post
I'm told by a constable I've used for eviction notices and such that the scenario in the OP is perfectly okay. So long as the person being signed for is prepared to acknowledge the signature as his or her own, then you're good.
Your use of the term "constable" suggests however that you are not American. I wonder if the law is different.
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  #8  
Old 06-16-2011, 11:54 PM
Oakminster Oakminster is online now
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I've done this with court orders. Needed something signed by a judge that won't accept a faxed signature, other lawyer is out of town. Called the other lawyer, explained that we got the picky judge, obtained permission, then I signed his name, under it wrote "by <my name, with permission>", signed it, filed it, sent a stamped filed copy to the other guy.

My secretary does this sometimes. She's allowed to sign my name to routine correspondence, like form letters to clients advising of an office appointment/court date, or cover letters for documents I send to clients. Important stuff gets an original signature from me.
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  #9  
Old 06-17-2011, 12:16 AM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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Originally Posted by Oakminster View Post
"by <my name, with permission>
That would be the important bit wouldn't it? Wouldn't it be fraud to present such a signature as the original?
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  #10  
Old 06-17-2011, 02:03 AM
gatorslap gatorslap is offline
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Have you considered faxing the bill of sale form to the seller, and having him sign it and fax it back? That should be okay, unless the form itself is not copyable.
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  #11  
Old 06-17-2011, 02:46 AM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
That would be the important bit wouldn't it? Wouldn't it be fraud to present such a signature as the original?
How in the world would it be. It does not purport to be Joe Vendor's original signature (the forging of which would be fraud); it is what it purports to be, the writing of Joe Vendor's name, by his instructions, by Ben Buyer, who annotates it accordingly. So long as Joe Vendor is willing to stand by his word, that he told Ben to sign his name for him, it's a signature by agency. Trusted staff sign things for business principals all the time; so long as they're acting on the instructions of the man whose name they're signing, they're not committing fraud.

Think about notaries for a minute. While today notarization has turned into a legally-required-to-be-objective third party guarantee that the signature on the document is indeed that of the particular individual empowered to do what the document is doing (Joe Smith proving to a notary that he is indeed the Joseph Vaarsuvius Smith who owns the car he is transferring the title to, ?Boris Bureaucrat affirming before a notary he is indeed the Mayor authorized to commit the city to $2,000,000 in bonded indebtedness), it started out as a means by which a literate person could witness the mark of an illiterate artisan or farmer whom he knows, after assuring himself that the illiterate person does in fact intend to contract for what the document purports to be doing. It was the notary's signature that validated the document, because anybody could claim that Jens the Wagonwright had made his mark here, see.

The function of a signature is to attest in writing that you knowingly agreed to do what the document you sign purports to do; while you should, ceteris paribus, sign for yourself, you can authorize someone to sign in your behalf, and their signature, by your direction, is valid and not fradulent.
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  #12  
Old 06-17-2011, 03:26 AM
AK84 AK84 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
Your use of the term "constable" suggests however that you are not American. I wonder if the law is different.
Its not a "legal" issue. Its a practical issue. If a person allows you to forge his signature then he is unlikely to disown the same when confronted and you are unlikely to get into trouble.

Per OP; you need signatures to commit people to something, a signature means that a person has read or seen the document in question. Its an easy quick way.
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  #13  
Old 06-17-2011, 07:26 AM
bizerta bizerta is offline
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It's only forgery if the intent is fraud.
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  #14  
Old 06-17-2011, 07:26 AM
KCB615 KCB615 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
Your use of the term "constable" suggests however that you are not American. I wonder if the law is different.
In Massachusetts (where Sal Ammoniac is from), we have (usually) elected constables, employed by the municipality, for serving legal documents. I am reasonably confident that they only handle civil process stuff, nothing in the criminal side of the law. I can see a constable knowing the peculiarities of whose signature counts and under what circumstances - it's a big portion of his or her job.
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  #15  
Old 06-17-2011, 07:54 AM
CookingWithGas CookingWithGas is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
...in this day and age, when everything has gone digital...
Today is no different than days of yore when it comes to a person signing something. Using digital technology doesn't somehow eliminate the need to have authentication, like a signature. The availability of digital transmission of data just makes it more of an annoyance to get it.

The digital technology needed to provide a signature has been available for quite some time but the average person doesn't have it or understand it. You have to get a digital certificate. This technology is actually superior (IMHO) to a wet-ink signature on a piece of paper, which can't be objectively authenticated for false positives (that is, if a person says, "That's not my signature," it's hard to prove that it is). If a person controls his cert properly, it is virtually forge-proof.

I heard someone at work referring to a "digital signature" which really should mean a cert, but it turned out they meant a digital image of a signature. IMHO (IANAL) this looks nice but is worthless for legal authentication because it is so easily copied, much easier than forging a traditional signature. Also very difficult for the signer to look at it and recall whether they actually signed it. "Well, that looks like mine, but we used exactly the same image on 100 documents so I can't be sure someone didn't copy it."
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  #16  
Old 06-17-2011, 08:03 AM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Polycarp View Post
How in the world would it be. It does not purport to be Joe Vendor's original signature (the forging of which would be fraud); it is what it purports to be, the writing of Joe Vendor's name, by his instructions, by Ben Buyer, who annotates it accordingly. So long as Joe Vendor is willing to stand by his word, that he told Ben to sign his name for him, it's a signature by agency. Trusted staff sign things for business principals all the time; so long as they're acting on the instructions of the man whose name they're signing, they're not committing fraud.

...

The function of a signature is to attest in writing that you knowingly agreed to do what the document you sign purports to do; while you should, ceteris paribus, sign for yourself, you can authorize someone to sign in your behalf, and their signature, by your direction, is valid and not fradulent.
"Wouldn't it be fraud to present such a signature as the original?"

Maybe it's my wording.

Wouldn't it be fraud to present such a signature as one signed by the actual person in question, not one signed by yourself on his behalf.
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  #17  
Old 06-17-2011, 08:09 AM
Uber_the_Goober Uber_the_Goober is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
Your use of the term "constable" suggests however that you are not American. I wonder if the law is different.
Not necessarily, "constable" is just a term for the paperwork delivering arm of the sheriff's office in a given locale. We've got them here in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The guy who brings you your eviction notice, or court summons, or other such deliver-it-in-person papers, but who does not have standard "police authority" is called a constable.
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  #18  
Old 06-17-2011, 08:20 AM
Anaamika Anaamika is offline
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Here's a good one. We bought a Nano from the iPod store the other day, and they do all the sales right there at the display stand. They have little iPods that have credit card attachments, and so we ran our card, and then, my SO had to sign the pad with his finger.

The finger signature of course looked absolutely nothing like his real signature. So the signature is mandatory...but completely useless. If someone were to compare it, it would look like a child forged his signature.

I'm with the OP - it seems silly to maintain this thing of true signatures. Can't we find a better way?
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  #19  
Old 06-17-2011, 09:28 AM
gazpacho gazpacho is offline
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Anaamika and Argent Towers,

It is not like signatures prior to these amazing digital times were are that good at authenticating things. When it really really matters You get signatures notarized which adds a licensed third party to the verification process.

People have been working on the problem of authentication for a long long time and have not come up with solutions that are cheap, secure and easy to use. There are a fair number that get cheap and easy to use at the cost of security.
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  #20  
Old 06-17-2011, 09:50 AM
ExcitedIdiot ExcitedIdiot is offline
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Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
Is there some database of signatures that they check all signed documents like bills of sale against at the BMV? Or do they just assume the signature is correct, on the "honor system"? If the latter, then I ask again, what is the point of doing it at all?
I doubt they ever check signatures. Even banks rarely check signatures. Most people don't even sign the same way every time. Staples employees always check your signature against the one on the back of your credit card. I've been sent there several times with other peoples cards, I just make a scribble, and nobody has ever gave me a problem.

I bought a car once from a private seller, and had to return it. The seller wrote me a check from his girlfriends checking account, and signed it himself. When I brought it to her bank to cash it, I had to wait while they found the signature card from the account. They had to call a supervisor in, but eventually they cashed the check.
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  #21  
Old 06-17-2011, 10:15 AM
Canadjun Canadjun is offline
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I thought the customary way of signing on behalf of someone else (assuming you have permission) was

Canadjun's signature per Someone Else.

Or has has using per gone out of fashion?
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  #22  
Old 06-17-2011, 11:58 AM
jtgain jtgain is offline
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Originally Posted by Canadjun View Post
I thought the customary way of signing on behalf of someone else (assuming you have permission) was

Canadjun's signature per Someone Else.

Or has has using per gone out of fashion?
I would do: " *jtgain's signature* FOR Canadjun " if I was authorized to sign for you.
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  #23  
Old 06-17-2011, 12:05 PM
robert_columbia robert_columbia is offline
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Originally Posted by gazpacho View Post
Anaamika and Argent Towers,

It is not like signatures prior to these amazing digital times were are that good at authenticating things. When it really really matters You get signatures notarized which adds a licensed third party to the verification process.

People have been working on the problem of authentication for a long long time and have not come up with solutions that are cheap, secure and easy to use. There are a fair number that get cheap and easy to use at the cost of security.
I thought that, in a strict legal sense, a signature is any mark used to authenticate a document, and doesn't have to have any specific form or even contain any part of your legal name, as long as the mark was made with actual intent to authenticate the document. So, in theory, I could make my "signature" be two hearts and a stick figure family, if I wanted it to be. I would probably have difficulty in real life, but if it ever got to court, "Your honor, robert_columbia won't sign this document! He just made a few heart and stick figure marks on it!" the judge would ask me if that is my signature and I could answer yes, and I would win.

I know someone who once signed a fictitious name on a rent check (no intent to defraud) in order to check if anyone would notice. Nobody did and the check went through perfectly.

Last edited by robert_columbia; 06-17-2011 at 12:09 PM..
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  #24  
Old 06-17-2011, 12:26 PM
Acsenray Acsenray is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by robert_columbia View Post
I thought that, in a strict legal sense, a signature is any mark used to authenticate a document, and doesn't have to have any specific form or even contain any part of your legal name, as long as the mark was made with actual intent to authenticate the document.
That's exactly right. Under the common law, the sole requirement for a valid signature is intent to create a valid signature. It doesn't matter what mark is made.
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  #25  
Old 06-17-2011, 03:01 PM
Oakminster Oakminster is online now
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Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
"Wouldn't it be fraud to present such a signature as the original?"

Maybe it's my wording.

Wouldn't it be fraud to present such a signature as one signed by the actual person in question, not one signed by yourself on his behalf.
Well, in the context of a court order in my example, it would certainly be considered perpetrating a fraud upon the court, as well as the crime of forgery. I'd expect someone that did that intentionally would be disbarred.

Lawyers are "officers of the court". That means we may not knowingly lie or misrepresent any material fact to the court. It also means that if we are arguing for a position contra to controlling authority, we are required to cite the controlling authority to the court.

For example, I could not argue to a court that "separate but equal" schools for children of different races is perfectly legal and something the court should approve without citing Brown v Board of Education which shot that argument down in flames years ago. I could, in theory, argue that my case is somehow distinguishable from Brown, or that Brown was wrongly decided and my local trial court should ignore one of the most famous SCOTUS opinions of the last century. My local trial court would then politely overrule me...well...ok....at least one Chancellor might announce from the bench that I was full of shit if I did something like that, but the point remains.
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  #26  
Old 06-17-2011, 05:06 PM
doreen doreen is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
Is there some database of signatures that they check all signed documents like bills of sale against at the BMV? Or do they just assume the signature is correct, on the "honor system"? If the latter, then I ask again, what is the point of doing it at all?
There is no point if there is no allegation of fraud or theft , but motor vehicles doesn't know which transactions will result in allegations of fraud and/or theft If I sign a bill of sale transferring my watercraft to someone else and they register it, there's no problem. The problem comes up when someone steals my boat and forges a bill of sale transferring it from me to them. At some point ( probably after I sue the person in possession of my boat) the signature on the form will be compared to other signatures of mine. In the same way that banks don't check the signature on every check, but will if the account holder claims they didn't sign the check.

Last edited by doreen; 06-17-2011 at 05:07 PM..
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  #27  
Old 06-18-2011, 09:10 AM
robby robby is offline
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When I was in the military, I occasionally had to sign official correspondence that was officially from my Commanding Officer.

(The top of the correspondence stated:
FROM: COMMANDING OFFICER, USS [SUBMARINE]
TO: COMSUBGOD [or whatever])

The CO's typed name block was at the bottom. Anyway, if the CO was not available (like it was after hours and he was at home), and with his permission, I would sign MY name over the CO's name block, and write after my signature the notation "BY DIRECTION."

I would never have dreamed of signing my CO's actual name, which seems to be what some others have said they have done, or have had their secretaries do. That seems awfully close to forgery. What do you do if the person whose name you're signing denies they gave you permission?
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  #28  
Old 06-18-2011, 02:27 PM
Inner Stickler Inner Stickler is offline
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The same thing you'd do if your CO denies giving you permission to sign your name where his would have gone?
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  #29  
Old 06-18-2011, 02:53 PM
brocks brocks is offline
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There is no consistency to it. My mom is over 90, and I handle all her financial stuff for her. She lives in another state, so getting her signature on things is a hassle.

You would think that filing her tax return would require a signature, but no. As long as I know what her AGI was last year, I can file for her with no problems.

On the other hand, I once tried to open a CD with her as a joint owner at a local bank, and they refused to do it without her physical signature. They assured me that because of new laws after 9/11, it would be the same everywhere. I went home and opened an account for her over the internet, and nobody asked for a signature from her.
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Old 06-18-2011, 06:54 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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When my friend died, leaving behind a wife and young girl, that night the widow was nearly insane w/ grief and a general breakdown. He had committed suicide, where an autopsy is generally required, except for requests by religious Jews (in the ground in three days, etc.).

She, her cousin, and the Rabbi agreed to write the letter, but she had already gone incommunicado by the time we worked out the wording. So I signed it.

Almost a year later, the widow sued my ass for fraud.
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  #31  
Old 06-19-2011, 10:12 AM
robby robby is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Inner Stickler View Post
The same thing you'd do if your CO denies giving you permission to sign your name where his would have gone?
There's a difference, though: if I sign (i.e. forge) my CO's signature, there's no way that an outside observer can tell whether or not I'm attempting to purport that the signature is actually the CO's.

By signing my own signature with the annotation "BY DIRECTION", I'm making it very clear that I'm signing on the CO's behalf (and that I'm not actually the CO), and that there is no intent to defraud.

To put it another way, in the first situation, if the CO is asked later if he signed something sometime after the fact, he would simply say, "That's not my signature."

If he's presented with something signed with the "BY DIRECTION" method, he would simply say, "That's LT Smith's signature. He was on duty when that letter was signed, so it makes sense that I would have given him permission to sign for me 'by direction.'"

P.S. Nobody noticed the "COMSUBGOD" crack, eh?
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  #32  
Old 06-19-2011, 07:27 PM
Inner Stickler Inner Stickler is offline
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I feel that that's a distinction without a difference.
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  #33  
Old 06-19-2011, 08:22 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Originally Posted by Inner Stickler View Post
I feel that that's a distinction without a difference.
It must hold legal weight. I signed dozens of arrest warrants that way when I was working and all of the people who were subsequently arrested ended up with a copy. You'd think at least one of them would have raised the issue if the warrants I was signing weren't legally valid.
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  #34  
Old 06-19-2011, 08:57 PM
Fuzzy Dunlop Fuzzy Dunlop is offline
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Originally Posted by gazpacho View Post
It is not like signatures prior to these amazing digital times were are that good at authenticating things. When it really really matters You get signatures notarized which adds a licensed third party to the verification process.
When it matters even more, you get a signature guarantee from a bank. They're normally used to securities transactions but my estate lawyer recommends them for PoAs if his clients have any significant assets.
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