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On several occasions I've found myself e-signing documents* (one such instance was consenting to a background check for a rental agreement). The companies that offer these services use questions to identify you, which ostensibly only you should be able to answer. In my experience, I've gotten two types of questions:

  1. Questions about places I've lived, e.g. "in which of these cities is 6th ave?", or "in which of these cities have you lived?"
  2. Questions about people I've known, e.g. "which of these people have you been acquainted with?"

The first question is usually unproblematic. The second one however, is why I'm here.

This question comes up almost every time I have to "sign" such a document and I'm not sure how they come up with the names, but when I'm lucky, they've misspelled the name of a person I know. Other times though, I've seen them butcher names of people so badly that I can only assume, of the four people listed, this one is the one "I should know"**.

When it gets that extreme though, I catch myself thinking, "technically I don't know any of the people in this list", and as such I'd be lying about knowing a person that (in the worst case) might actually exist. I'm caught in the dilemma of needing to get my document signed by "reading behind their algorithm" to intuit what they actually mean to ask and not getting my document signed because I really don't know anyone in the list***.

So can someone tell me, what would/could the legal ramifications of this lie of convenience be?

* I almost always have the option of signing some other way, e-signing is just more convenient in those situations.

** I've done this often enough that I know that this is the deciding question, whether they'll be able to "verify" my identity

*** I've always chosen not to lie :)

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    The statement you are making (the moral equivalent of a signature) is you affirming the contract. It is not a lie because you are the person who is intended to be signing the contract. The questions are merely a way of confirming your identity and are the moral equivalent of writing your driver's license number or address on a check you pay for your groceries with. Just as a check would not be invalid if you transposed some numbers when copying your driver's license number, you giving a technically incorrect answer to ID question in order to say what they mean doesn't invalidate your approval. – ohwilleke Feb 24 at 20:59
  • Thread title is "Legal ramifications..." but question concentrates on lying. A different legal ramification is failure to complete a contract. Say a real estate buyer can't give the right answers so can't buy a property on the agreed-upon date, thus breaching the contract with the seller. So who's responsible to the seller for breaching the contract? – Gerard Ashton Feb 25 at 1:39
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Lying is not illegal

(Except in very specific circumstances).

In any event, you aren’t lying; you are making your best guess at understanding through a noisy communications channel. The circumstances are no different than if you were talking to someone with a thick accent or over a noisy phone line.

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At least some of these services construct at least some of their questions so that the correct answer is "none of the above". Therefor assuming that one of the names must be the incorrectly spelled name of someone you do know is risky in that you might be marked as incorrect and have significant hassle in getting the service to accept that you are in fact you. I have had this happen to me.

Some services do not use the "who do you know" type of questions, but sometimes the answer to 'in which town/county did you own property" is "none of the above".

I don't think that the service can or will attempt to impose any legal consequences for a "lie" beyond declining to accept your identity. It would be almost impossible to prove that a response was a lie rather than an honest mistake, and such answers are not given under penalty of perjury in any case.

  • I know that "none of the above" and "does not apply" options are there, but like I said, I've learned that these questions tend to be the one's where they realize, they can't "verify" my identity, even when I do choose none of the above. This is what I was getting at, when I said "this is the one 'I should know'" You mention that it "...would almost be impossible to prove that a response was a lie rather than an honest mistake..." I think this helps. Like I said, with this sort of thing, I've learned that in order to "identify" myself, I have to read into, i.e. interpret their questions. – flooose Feb 24 at 16:12

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