If you can’t write, sign with an “X” mark

Do you remember those films in which, for example, a poor illiterate signed the sale of his mule with an “X” mark? I wonder if the individual actually knew the purpose of scrawling a signature on a piece of paper.
A signature is simply proof of the signatory’s identity, the integrity of what he’s signed and the individual’s willingness to accept the contract’s content. Identity is based on the fact that only the signatory can scrawl a particular signature; integrity is achieved by preventing additional clauses below the signature and not allowing amendments or corrections in the document in question; finally, the individual’s willingness is based on the fact that he’s read the contract in question at the time of signing it. It seems clear that our poor illiterate was hardly able to ensure his identity, although he’s not in a worse position than the literates to judge by this experiment. Regarding the document’s integrity, nowadays there are all types of technology that can change it after the signature. Regarding willingness, our man could be signing the sale of his soul without knowing it (I recall that my credit card contracts seemed to say something similar in fine print). One could say that, by making two copies of the document signed by both parties, the issue of integrity would be settled, but this is not the case since, in principle, you don’t know which party has changed the content.

In short, when guaranteeing our identity, the document’s integrity and our willingness to accept it, we are not much better than the illiterate muleteer. What can we do? I will personally start signing with an X from now on, to save on pens more than anything else.
For anyone who thinks that the example of the illiterate guy is obsolete in developed countries, I recommend looking at the bottom part of this US form.

By Manolo Santos
Saved in: e-Signatures, Pranks | No comments » | 20 June 2006

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