Does a Computer Generated Letter Need a Signature?

This morning I had by email a long-wished-for letter (laid out like a typical business letter, with letterhead and date and address etc.) from the company financing my car, telling me my loan was now paid in full. It finished with the usual cordial invitation to contact them if I should need any further services, then ‘sincerely, [name of company]’, then:

“NOTE: This letter is computer generated; no signature is required.”

And sure enough, it looked like an old computer printout, as if it had holes up the side to feed it through a printer, and an ancient font, pre-Courier.

What do you think about the statement of … law … ? It lacks a ‘therefore’ between the two parts of that sentence, but I think a ‘therefore’ is implied. What is there about a computer generated communication that would not need a signature?

I don’t think a signature is required, but I don’t think that has anything to do with the medium of communication. It could have been typed on a typewriter, if anyone has one of those devices any more. It could have been written by hand.

What I want as the former debtor is something I can rely on, and thus something I can authenticate if my debt-free status needs to be demonstrated. I have lots of authentication available in the email, including headers, metadata, information connecting the text with me and my car, etc – some more easy for me to fake than others. A signature would not add much. Indeed it could be argued, or could have been without the note, that the name of the company under ‘sincerely’ was a signature.

I presume the company puts this in because recipients of the letter complained about the lack of a signature and thought they would be better protected if there was one. Instead of adding something that looked like a signature, the company decided to pretend that one was not needed because it was a computer document.

What would you have advised:

i) the company when first generating these messages?

ii) a customer who received an unsigned message about his/her loan?

iii) the company, faced with a request from a customer asking for a signature (or at least asking why there wasn’t one)?

Would your answer differ in these days of Covid-19?

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