As we are encouraged to do more business on the word wide web, we may sometimes overlook some simple security measures in an attempt to become more efficient electronically.
One of these is the uploading and sharing of documents that may contain personal signatures which in many cases, is also used as legal signatures. The original intention would be for those documents to stay filed in a cabinet, with only physical access and not in the view of the public.
With the thrust to move business operations digitally and in the cloud, a simple scan and upload of the same signed documents which was initially only to be available on paper has now become a high-res sharable PDF or image. Some of these images or PDFs end up on company websites making it even more accessible to the public at large.
Freely available graphic design tools which you can download on your mobile phone, has made it very easy to remove signatures on those documents and save them in a format that can be placed on any other document thereby opening up the door for fraudulent activities and identity theft.
For this article, we will make a distinction between two classifications of signatures. The purpose is to understand the concept behind each classification and hopefully allow the end user to decide what would be acceptable for use:
A banking signature is one that must match signatures for legal and accounting purposes. These include signatures on an ID Card or Passport which are used to verify authenticity. These signatures are often used by banks to verify the signatories on an account to approve a payment. They are also used in legal documents such as deeds, agreements etc. Electronic solutions related to this are listed later on in this article.
A non-banking signature is one that can be used for everyday purposes such as affixing a signature to a letter. This is often done to strengthen the authenticity behind a letter or document but not needed for legal purposes.
A Signature based font can be used for this purpose. It is recommended that you use a font which is very different to any banking or personal signatures.
Scanned Handwritten Signatures
A scanned image of a handwritten signature can be used as an equivalent to a written signature for purposes where it meets the appropriate functional requirements however, such images
- must only be used where permission has been granted by the author
- must be kept securely to prevent unauthorized access and use
- should not be available to the public
- should not be done in high-res quality
Emails shared within an organization under that domains email account can be used as an equivalent to a written signature for internal purposes where it meets the appropriate functional requirements. Where a member of staff allows a proxy to have write access to their email account, it is important that the proxy is informed of the limits of his/her authority in the sending of emails on behalf of the member of staff. Responsibility for authorizations made by email remains with the email account holder unless the proxy is acting maliciously, fraudulently or negligently.
There may be instances where an electronic signature is required for the contract, process or document to be legally binding. This is where the concept of eSignatures come into play. Electronic signature is legally binding and enforceable in countries that have enacted electronic signature laws. The Electronic Transactions Act of 2011 has outlined guidelines for the use of electronic signatures in Trinidad and Tobago,
An Electronic signature, or e-signature is a legal concept, much like their paper equivalent, and defined by The Electronic Transactions Act of 2011 as any ” information in electronic form affixed to, or logically associated with a data message which may be used to (a) identify the signatory in relation to that data message; or (b) indicate the signatory’s approval of the information contained within that data message;”
The function of an electronic signature is to capture the intent of the signer to be bound by the terms and conditions in a contract. Electronic signature software is designed to capture legally-enforceable signatures online.
There are a few electronic signature applications and all come with varying features and costing options. Your decision would be ultimately based on the level of security that your organization would like to employ as well as the ability to integrate with existing productivity tools such as MS Office or Adobe Suite. These are often not cheap and come with varying levels of complexities which may deter from purchasing, however, with advances in security on both the good and bad side, this preventative cost my often be less than a fraud or identity theft scenario.
Alternative to eSignatures – Online forms
An online form can be used to prove the authenticity of a request or transaction once an appropriate audit trail can be done to show the beginning and end of the submit request. Such forms should be stored, encrypted in a database and can be accessible by the parties involved for the length of the duration of the contract.1