We’ve all done it: you get ready to write a check in January and you accidentally date it for the previous year. For the first few weeks of every year this usually mindless task actually requires us to focus in order to complete properly.
When signing legal documents this year, officials advise that you not abbreviate the year to “20,” and instead use all four digits “2020.” Why? Because signing “20” leaves an opportunity for the date to be changed to “2019” or “2021” or any other future year in this century.
National Association of Consumer Advocates, Ira Rheingold, cited the following examples:
“If you have an old check lying around that's dated 1/4/20 and someone finds it, they could add “21” to the end of that date, and voila, the check is no longer stale. Or, let's say you sign a credit contract — an agreement between a borrower and a lender — and date it 1/4/20. Say you then miss a month or two of payments, and the lender goes to collect the debt that's owed. Theoretically, they could add “19” to the end of that date and argue that you owe more than a year's worth of payments.”
Officials that deal with fraud say that this is more of a problem than usual document tampering they’ve dealt with in the past, because in order to change a date that ended in “19,” the scammer would have to date the check at least 20 years older than intended. For example, changing a lease agreement from “19” (for 2019) to 1999 would draw more red flags than changing it from 2020 to 2019.
While date abbreviation is a hotly discussed topic this year, it really brings up a best practice that should be followed no matter the year to reduce your risk of falling prey to fraud. We recommend always taking that extra second to include the year’s first two digits when writing checks or official documents including tax returns, loans, legal paperwork, etc.