How to safely get rid of an old credit card


Have an old credit card that you'd like to dispose of for good? Whatever you do, don't throw it away. These days, by chucking old credit cards into the rubbish, you are practically handing your card information to someone on a plate.


Instead, follow these six steps to ensure that your card is properly destroyed and your personal details are as safe as possible. 

1. Demagnetise your card.
Run a magnet along the magnetic stripe for a decent amount of time. The stripe on the back of your credit card contains all your important personal data, such as your account number, name, card limit and so on. Demagnetising your card will help make it unusable.

It does not matter what magnet you use; a simple fridge magnet will do the trick. It is not the strength of the magnet that matters, it's the exposure that counts.

2. Cut it up.
Most people remember to take the scissors to their credit card before they throw it in the trash. However, they often don't cut it in the right places or they only bother to cut a few strips here and there. In order to make it as difficult as possible for identity thieves to piece the card back together, you need to carefully and strategically cut up the card.

First, cut up the numbers on the card. Each block of four numbers should be cut into at least two pieces. Next, cut the signature, magnetic stripe and security code (the digits on the reverse of the card) into very small pieces. A good tip here is to make bent, straight and curved slices, making it harder to piece together.

3. Smash the chip.
Sometimes it can be difficult to just cut the chip up, so to be safe, smash the chip into tiny pieces with a hammer. The embedded chip also includes all your personal information and so it is just as important as the magnetic stripe.

4. Shred related documents.
Once you have destroyed the card, it's essential that you don't leave behind a paper trail. All your statements and other associated documents contain just as much information as your plastic credit cards.

First, purchase a cross-cutting shredder. These are generally more expensive than standard shredders, but they're a key tool in adequate fraud prevention. Make sure that you shred every single document related to your credit cards to ensure that if a thief rifles through the bins, no information can be found and pieced back together.

5. Place shards in separate bags.
After you have shredded, chopped and smashed everything up, it's time to dispose of it. Don't throw it all into the same bag.

Split up all your waste and place the remainders into separate rubbish bags, making the fraudster's job even harder. If you want to be extra safe, you could even keep half of the card pieces and documents behind until the next rubbish collection. If you plan to recycle the paper, take the same steps as if you were disposing of your documents in the rubbish.(Your information isn't any safer in the recycling bin.)

6. Light a fire -- but don't include your card.
Destroying your documents by fire is one way that you can be absolutely sure that your credit card information is safe. If you have a log fire at home, burn your related documentation so that there is no way for it to be traced.

That said, it is not advised, to melt your your plastic credit card. There are lots of chips and magnets inside that could release dangerous fumes. 

The bottom-line: Do what you can to keep your personal information secure. Thanks to significant improvements in credit card security, including improved detection tools and cardholder authentication, plastic card fraud is on the decline, according to the National Fraud Authority's most recent Annual fraud indicator. However, to be most effective, fraud prevention has to continue at home.  

Even though identity theft comes with a price tag of a maximum of 15 years in prison and a fine, some criminals are still inclined to commit the offence. (According to the Annual fraud indicator, identity fraud cost the UK £38.4 billion in 2010 alone.) You can help reduce the number of fraud cases in the UK by protecting your own identity and properly destroying all unused or expired credit cards.

See related: Smartphones to get secure fingerprint technology; Why you should never reuse credit card PINs

Published: 7 September 2011