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Clients sign, notaries seal, and it's a deal

When a girl just shy of 18 wanted to get a tattoo, her mother called Barbara Carrier.

The woman wasn't panicking over her daughter's sudden interest in body art. Instead, she wanted Carrier, a notary public, to stamp a letter of consent.

Since receiving her certification last March, Carrier has pressed her official seal on everything from loan documents to mortgage papers. A small black and white sign on the edge of Carrier's Port Richey lawn reads "Certified Notary Public."

Carrier joins a growing group of certified notaries public, who decrease forgery and fraud by certifying original documents. Experts say the work appeals to retirees, single mothers and those seeking extra income and flexible hours.

"I would rather work from home," said Carrier, 59. "It's my hours and my time."

While most banks offer free notary services for their customers, some are slowly phasing out certifying power of attorney or loan documents. That's because a bank can be sued if a notary employed by the bank is caught certifying a fake document.

Now, banks refer customers to notaries public like Carrier, a move that has steadily increased the popularity of at-home notaries.

In 1997, there were 346,000 notaries in Florida and 4.29-million nationwide, according to the National Notary Association, which releases data every five years. In 2002, there were 364,000 Florida notaries and 4.5-million nationwide, according to the NNA.

Charles Faerber, the association's vice president of notary affairs, expects the national number to reach 5-million next year.

"I think there are a lot of people who do this out of their homes to eliminate overhead," Faerber said. "You can kind of set your own schedule. It's consumer convenience, the fact that you don't have to stay home from work.

"Just have the notary come in the evening or the weekend and get it done. Most people feel more at ease in their home."

The first notaries can be traced back to ancient Rome. During medieval times, local clergy performed notary duties. At least one U.S. president, Benjamin Harrison, was a notary public before taking office.

Thrust into office by the sudden death of his predecessor, President Calvin Coolidge was sworn in by his father - a notary public.

Well-known modern-day notaries include humor columnist Dave Barry, who got certification in Florida so he could perform marriages.

All it takes is an education course - $10 for NNA members and $20 for nonmembers - and a filing fee of $39.

Carrier had been a telemarketer for 11 years before taking the notary course last year. She made about $1,500 last year and averages about three clients a week. Carrier, who also sells Avon products, charges $10 per seal on a loan or power of attorney document.

For $30, she'll even perform a wedding. On July 24, she presided at the marriage of Kristina and Justin Coffin at Sunset Beach in Tarpon Springs, since the couple didn't want a church wedding.

The ceremony lasted a mere 10 minutes. A Rottweiler named Neo was the ring bearer.

For some, the pay can be a big attraction. A notary's income can be as much as six figures, depending on how often they're open and how well they're publicized.

Rose Glean, a notary since 1982 who lives in Miami, said she made about $120,000 last year. Glean, 46, works about nine hours a day and receives referrals from companies whose clients need documents notarized.

"At first, I thought it was something that could supplement my income," Glean said.

"But I developed a passion for it. I moved from an independent part-time person to running a service in three counties. It's a business I am able to do and I could help others to do."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at (727) 869-6229 or cspencer@sptimes.com.

FAST FACTS

Notaries at a glance

- A notary public, or notary, is a person appointed by state government to witness the signing of official documents.

- Membership to the National Notary Association costs $52 a year.

- Florida, South Carolina and Maine are the only states where notaries can perform marriages.

- With about 364,000, Florida has one of the largest populations of notaries.

Source: The National Notary Association

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