News outlets have been warning against using the abbreviated version of the year 2020 when signing financial and legal papers, due to the potential for fraudsters to change the year. The result could be an altered (but legally-binding) document containing your signature. For example, someone who fails to initially cash a check dated 1/1/20 could change the date to 1/1/2021 and cash it a year after it was written.
If you think this scenario sounds unlikely, then you’re not alone. One article from Forbes mentions public skepticism about the danger, some people going so far as to call it fear-mongering. Other articles, such as this one from a Cleveland news site, have validated the threat with experts including bankers, lawyers, the Better Business Bureau, and even Homeland Security.
Is this a valid concern? According to the TDS Corporate Legal team, yes.
“When hand-signing legal documents, you should avoid using the two-digit abbreviated form of the year 2020. This is especially good practice this year to avoid possible fraud and prevent a third party from changing the date of your signature. For example, signing a contract 1/1/20 might allow a bad actor to add an additional two digits to the date, thereby changing your signature date to 1/1/2017. The legal effect of this change could be serious; it might appear that you signed up for a service for the past three years and are delinquent in your payment. Of course, the safest signatures are electronic, which time and date stamp your signature; but, if an electronic signature is not available, always sign and date your name with all four digits of this year (i.e., 1/1/2020),” stated TDS’ Deb Friedman, director of Legal Affairs.
By Vickie Lubner-Webb