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You’ve likely already experienced it. Someone emails you a contract or document and asks you to electronically sign it. Should you trust this approach, and does it pass legal muster? Now that a majority of communication is done electronically, it’s important to have a trustworthy way to sign a document using your electronic or digital signature.

If Someone Emails you a Document to Sign
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should never download attachments to your computer or device until you have confirmed that the sending source can be trusted. Hackers can easily make an email appear to come from a trusted source, but this is a phishing tactic designed to infect your computer with malware or capture sensitive or confidential information. Before you download, always confirm that you know the document sender.

Once you’ve confirmed that the attachment is actually from a trusted source, after downloading it you’ll need to know what type of document your trusted source sent you and if your computer has the correct application to open it. Most reputable companies, such as SignNow or Docusign, ask you to sign digitally using a signing service website, and then let you download a PDF version of the document for your records. Apple Pages or Google Docs users can use G Suite to open any Microsoft Word doc. Microsoft also offers a free Word Viewer app.

Are digitally signed documents legally binding? Electronic signatures have been recognized by law in the United States since 1999. Both the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) and the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) establish that electronic records and signatures have the same weight and legal effect as traditional paper documents with handwritten signatures, stating that a document or signature cannot be denied legal effect or enforceability just because it is in electronic form. However, there are a few specific kinds of documents barred from digital or electronic signing. This can include wills, codicils, and testamentary trusts; adoption or divorce agreements; court orders, notices, or other official court documents; notices of default, acceleration, repossession, foreclosure, or eviction regarding a primary residence; termination of health or life insurance benefits; and health or safety recalls or a product’s material failure notices. If you’re not sure if the specific type of document you’re digitally signing will be considered binding, check with your attorney or legal counsel beforehand.

If you have a scanner you can simply scan the ink-signed document and email it as an attachment to your trusted source, or upload the scanned document to Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, or other file hosting service. But this puts a digital version of your inked signature out there in a manner that can be copied unless you digitally encrypt the document, so Connectech does not recommend this approach.

Electronic Signature
There is a difference between electronic signatures and digital signatures (more on digital signatures below). An electronic signature is simply an image of your signature overlaid on top of a PDF or other document. Scanning and creating an image file of your signature allows you to quickly sign documents by placing the image in the appropriate location in your document. Again, we urge caution when taking this approach — make sure your electronic signature doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Digital Signature
A digital signature is a type of cryptographically secure electronic signature that encrypts documents with digital codes that are difficult to duplicate. When you sign a document using a digital signature, your private signing key verifies that you have seen and authorized the document. Digital signatures are considered quite secure, though depending on the application you’re using, may be a bit complicated to use. In spite of a recent hack recently reported of a popular digital signature service, using a digital signature is substantially more secure than using an electronic signature. Companies offering secure digital signatures include Adobe, DocuSign, HelloSign, RightSignature, and many others. Consumer Affairs has compiled a list of their top 11 best-rated digital signature software.

Web-Based Signing Services and E-Notary Services
If you don’t wish to purchase digital signature software, there are numerous web-based signing services available. Many include public notary services (which may or may not be legally binding in your state or county — check with your attorney or a legal professional). Connectech uses the super-affordable SignNow service with great success. Going with a service such as this offers a single location for storing and managing all of your signed documents, and also provides a log of all signed documents. Other reputable web-based signing services include Hellosign.com, Docusign.com, RightSignature.com, and RPost.com.

Please contact Connectech if you’d like assistance creating electronic or digital signatures, or would like to find out more about web-based signing services.