Welcome to the new decade, replete with new challenges to protect yourself against ever-inventive scam artists. One concern has a simple fix but requires your commitment to add two additional digits when signing or writing documents, letters, emails, and more. The National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) is reporting that the dawn of this decade creates unique opportunities for scammers when you abbreviate the year 2020 on official forms and documents to its shortened form xx/xx/20. The numbers representing the year are easily manipulated by nefarious individuals looking to exploit others, leaving them vulnerable to potential fraud.
CNN reports several ways abbreviating 2020 can create problems. The easiest way to understand this is by example. A document dated 1/5/20 can easily be changed to 1/5/2021 by merely adding the two numbers at the end of the year’s date. A check previously dated six months ago or more that has become “stale” can be made active by adding the number 21, making the check valid.
Another example is if you opt into signing a credit contract as a borrower, and the paperwork is dated 1/5/20. If the lender was less than credible and you might unwittingly miss a month or so of payments, the opportunity is created for the lender to add a 19 to the end of your signed date and argue you owe more than one year’s worth of payments.
While some are identifying this warning as fear-mongering, you have to ask yourself, how hard is it to simply create the discipline and sign the year as completed 2020? Of course, someone in the year xx/xx/19 could have added the number 99 to the end, creating a false document from 1999, but to be sure a document nearly 20 years out of date would get far easier dismissal than one that is being disputed between the years 2019 and 2020. Naturally, all dates can be altered on documents of any kind. Still, those within a more reasonable time frame of the current calendar suggest red flags should be raised for investigation because of the possibility for this type of date scam.
It is still early in the year, and there are no documented instances yet of someone being scammed using this method; however, it is better to be safe than sorry. Like identity theft, it is possible to regain control of a falsely dated signature scam attack. Still, it costs time, money, and adds needless frustration to your daily life to enact recovery to your signatory statements.
Think of the discipline to write out 2020 as overkill if you must, however, it makes sense to heed the warnings issued by law enforcement, consumer groups, businesses, and local governments. Financial fraud is the fastest-growing category of elder abuse, and this new decade ushers in the potential for faked date schemes on documents to defraud seniors out of their money and property. While it is unclear how pervasive this particular fraud scheme is to become in the year(s) ahead, don’t let this method of establishing an unpaid debt, attempt to cash an old check, or incorrectly dated legal documents create a catastrophe in your life.
There are more examples of how the abbreviation of 2020 can give scammers a chance to defraud you. Instead of focusing on the problem, it is better to implement the easy solution by removing the possibility of date scams on legal documents. Instead of being taken advantage of by scammers, perform a precautionary action. Therefore take the time, and instead of just writing 20, be sure to write the year in full as 2020 on all-important checks, documents, emails, and business transactions. You will be glad to have taken the time to protect yourself.
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Patrick Kelleher is an Estate Planning & Elder Law attorney, author and founder of the elder law care learning center in Hanover Massachusetts. Patrick has been teaching free educational workshops for over 10 years at his learning center and surrounding communities. Learn more at elderlawcare.com or follow Patrick Kelleher on Facebook because you will learn a lot! Offices in Hanover and Quincy.