Should You Worry About Writing Out “2020” on Documents?

The warnings are dire and deadly-serious, and by now, you’ve heard it at least once: make sure you write out the year “2020” when you date checks and legal documents, because if you just write the year as “20,” some scammer is going to change it to “2019” or “2018” or “2021” and…do something or other to you.

The primary anxiety seems to be that someone could backdate a loan agreement and make it look as though you initiated the loan in 2017 (for example) instead of 2020, and then sue you for payments and interest, using the signed document as evidence that you didn’t pay for three years.

However, mainstream, trustworthy lenders aren’t going to resort to this kind of thing because getting caught could result in the entire financial institution being shut down for fraud, plus the growing trend of electronic applications and e-signatures renders the point moot anyway.

(Also, you’re not going to borrow from any shady, greasy, fly-by-night under-the-table lenders in the first place, are you? “If it sounds too good to be true…”)

The scenario for writing out the full year on checks usually goes like this: if you just write “20,” but the check never gets cashed, some scammer is going to find it a year later, change the date to “2021,” then cash it.

Okay. And how likely is it that all these circumstances will line up in exactly this way? Most people don’t even write that many paper checks anymore, and very few of those go uncashed. Most payees want to be paid. Of course, anything is possible but even so, now this theoretical-scammer-from-a-year-from-now has a non-staledated check…made out to someone else. At some point, it would be easier to earn his own money, especially since any check that did remain unused long enough to go stale is probably not for an amount large enough to be worth the hassle.

I can’t think of an obvious benefit to this theoretical scam in any other scenario. If you give someone a check dated 2/13/20 and they change it to 2/13/2019, they have now rendered the check void because most financial institutions won’t honor a check past 180 days. And if they change it to 2/13/2021, all they’ve done is make themselves wait another year to cash it. Not exactly the work of a criminal mastermind.

fAll that said, go ahead and write out “2020” on checks and documents anyway. And next year, write “2021,” and after that “2022.” Why? It takes zero effort and it’s more accurate. It’s always good to strive for accuracy. And it eliminates the (ludicrously unlikely) situations above.