Here's why you should never abbreviate 2020 on checks, according to police

A police department in Maine shared a warning that has turned into a popular meme on social media.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

A Maine police department is warning against abbreviating the year 2020 on checks and legal documents for precautionary reasons and to avoid potential fraud.

The East Millinocket Police Department shared a message on Facebook from the George E. Moore Law Office in Ohio that advises people to write out 2020 instead of an example like 3/3/20 because it could allow people to write a different year at the end by adding two digits after 20.

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

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The department later edited the post after receiving some criticism to say that it was intended as a warning, not strict legal advice.

"Of course we understand that all dates can be altered, however I believe that most here would agree that if a document of any kind, either legal or professional, is brought to our attention as being forged or fraudulent, it would likely raise far more red flags, depending on the circumstances, if it had a date of 1999 as opposed to 2019 or 2021.

A Maine police department passed along a warning from a law office to avoid abbreviating 2020 on checks and legal documents. Getty Images

"Again, we shared this meme with a simple cautionary post, giving the citizens of our small community information to consider. Criminals are always looking for ways to take advantage of people. This meme provided a tip that we felt has some validity so this is why we shared it. It is not intended as legal advise or a warning, only as a cautionary tip to consider."

So is this a legitimate concern as we start the new year?

"The chances of someone trying to pull that kind of fraud on you are pretty slim, especially since it is so easy to prove that it was done," Pennsylvania attorney Michael Ventrella told TODAY in an email.

"If someone changes the date on a check or a contract, that's fraud. It's easy to prove and no court will hold you responsible for a contract that was changed like that. Even a simple mistake can be easily corrected."

Contract law is not so strict as to hold people to whatever is written down if that was not their intent, Ventrella added.

"You'd also have to ask why someone would do this," he said. "If you change the date on a check to 2019, for instance, then a check dated Jan. 3, 2019 would never be honored by a bank because it's so old. Who would do that? What benefit would it have?

"If you want to play it safe, then sure, write out the entire date. But you'd be better off to prepare for being hit by lightning, because that's probably more likely."