OTTUMWA — Everyone has done it. The new year arrives and you write out the date on a check using the previous year.

It’s no big deal, just scratch out the year and write the correct one. But there may be reason to approach this year a little differently than years gone by due to a once-in-a-century occurrence.

When most people write out the date, they do it using a shorthand with the month/date/year in which the year uses only the last two digits. Most years that’s plenty. Doing that this year could leave you open to fraud, as numerous posts on social media have said.

The first two digits of this year are the same as the last two. That makes it unusually easy for someone to alter a check by adding two more digits, turning 1/1/20 into 1/1/2019 or 1/1/2021.

The possible effects could vary. In theory, a scammer could use the altered date to claim you failed to begin payments on a debt on time or to make an outdated check look current. The warnings have come from a wide variety of sources, including some police departments.

While experts are split on just how much vulnerability people would have in such situation, writing out the full year isn’t a bad idea. It takes just a couple seconds, and makes it much harder for someone to alter the date.

In most cases, there are ways to show fraud has occurred. That offers some protection. But it can also be a headache that’s easily avoided.

While many online memes and claims are dubious at best, this is one time that social media got it right.

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