Police are warning that you shouldn’t shorten ‘2020’ to ’20’ when signing documents—here’s why

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We’re now a couple of weeks into the New Year, which means we’re finally starting to remember to write “2020” instead of “2019” on documents and checks. But, in addition to getting the date correct, officials are warning that you’ll want to make sure you’re not abbreviating the year when you’re dating documents and checks. That’s because shortening the year “2020” as simply “20” could open you up to fraud.

The East Millinocket Police Department in Maine shared a message on Facebook attributed to the George E. Moore Law Office in Ohio that encourages people to write out 2020 because abbreviating it could allow others to change the year by adding two more digits. The example used changes 3/3/20 to 3/3/2017 or 3/3/2018.

This is sound advice and should be considered when signing any legal or professional document. It could potentially save you some trouble down the road.Meme credited to George E. Moore Law Office, LLC.

Posted by East Millinocket Police Department on Wednesday, January 1, 2020

“This is sound advice and should be considered when signing any legal or professional document,” the department wrote. “It could potentially save you some trouble down the road.”

An auditor named Dusty Rhodes also chimed in on Twitter at @AuditorRhodes:

Writing the date out, he said, “could possibly protect you and prevent legal issues on paperwork.”

So, what problems could arise if someone altered the date on your check?

Ira Rheingold, the executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, told USA Today that scammers could use the method to attempt to cash an old check or make it look as though you haven’t paid a debt.

“Say you agreed to make payments beginning on 1/15/20,” Rheingold said. “The bad guy could theoretically establish that you began owing your obligation on 1/15/2019, and try to collect additional $$$.”

This goes for the future as well; that obligation could be post-dated to say that you’re supposed to make extra payments years after your debt has been paid. For example, easily forged numbers might say installments are to be paid through 2025 instead of 2020.

Additionally, a check that’s dated 1/1/20 could be changed to 1/1/2021 next year, making an uncashed and expired check active again.

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Businessman and estate agent signing a document for house deal, vintage filter effect

Commenters on both posts have pointed out that “19” would have been an issue last year for dates from 1999 and before, although the East Millinock Police Department said in a comment (as reported by Forbes but no longer appearing on the Facebook thread) that dates from the previous century raise more red flags as potential scams.

Commenters also pointed out that if someone is determined, many dates can be modified in other ways — 3s can be changed to 8s, for instance. Keeping a copy of your document, said one Twitter user, is always important. However, writing an extra two digits on your check is one easy fix that could help prevent problems down the line.

So, the next time you sign a document or write a check, remember to write out the full year. Adding those two extra digits on the year won’t take much time but could save you a lot of trouble. Better safe than sorry!

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Brittany Anas

Hi, I'm Brittany Anas (pronounced like the spice, anise ... see, that wasn't too embarrassing to say, now was it?) My professional writing career started when I was in elementary school and my grandma paid me $1 for each story I wrote for her. I'm a former newspaper reporter, with more than a decade of experience Hula-hooping at planning meetings and covering just about every beat from higher-education to crime to science for the Boulder Daily Camera and The Denver Post. Now, I'm a freelance writer, specializing in travel, health, food and adventure. I've contributed to publications including Men's Journal, Forbes, Women's Health, American Way, TripSavvy, Eat This, Not That!, Apartment Therapy, Denver Life Magazine, 5280, Livability, The Denver Post, Simplemost, USA Today Travel Tips, Make it Better, AAA publications, Reader's Digest, Discover Life and more. Learn More.