Please Don’t Abbreviate the Year ‘2020’ on Checks and Legal Documents

By Anna Breuer on 4 January 2020
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You may think of paper checks as quaint or passé but if you plan to write a check to someone this year, experts on consumer fraud suggest not abbreviating the date.

Unscrupulous individuals could add an extra two digits to a contract or other document to change the start date of a contract or to a stale check that the recipient could otherwise not deposit.

The handwritten date “1/5/20” can easily be changed to “1/5/2021” or even “1/5/2019.”  The problem is the same whether you write dates in the American fashion of 1/5/2020 for January 5, 2020 or the way the rest of the world would write it, namely 5.1.2020 or 5/1/2019 for 5 January 2020 if you express the year in a two-digit format.

The same advice goes for when you sign any documents and have to write in the date by hand.

It’s important to keep in mind that a date in a legal document doesn’t just specify when it was signed. It can be a central element in contract provisions that state when conditions must be fulfilled and when payment must be made.  Indeed, decades ago, the date in a legal document was so critical that it was written with both numbers (“1/5/2020”) and letters (“January 5, 2020”) to rule out any possible ambiguity.  Most legal documents today continue to do this where financial or other figures are concerned, to wit “ten thousand dollars ($10,000).”

The most unambiguous and well-defined method of writing dates and time is defined by ISO 8601, a standard first promulgated by the International Organization for Standardization in 1988, although it’s not commonplace on checks or legal documents. ISO 8601, which was create specifically to as to avoid misinterpretation of numeric representations of dates and times, allows for two formats, “YYYY-MM-DD” and “YYYYMMDD” formats, in which the date January 4, 2020 would be writer either as “2020-01-04” or “20200104.”

The advice is echoed by Ira Rheingold, the director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, a non-profit group of attorneys who represent consumers victimized by fraudulent practices.  “The threat is real,” he said.

Law enforcement officials around the country have written about the issue as well.

“This is very sound advice and should be considered when signing any legal or professional document,” said the East Millinocket Police Department in Maine in a Facebook post. “It could potentially save you some trouble down the road.”

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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