With EMV chip cards rolling out in the United States, you can expect your issuer to send you a replacement card with a chip soon (if it hasn’t already). All those new cards arriving in mailboxes means old cards are destined for the trash, where they can be easy pickings for fraudsters.
We asked identity theft and security expert Rob Douglas how to make your old card as unenticing as possible to thieves.
Completely destroy it
Cutting your card in half won’t, well, cut it. So, use one of the following methods:
Shred it: If you’re going to dice your card, a cross-cut shredder is the way to go, according to Douglas.
“Even some of the lesser shredders will work their way through that plastic, he says.
Use scissors: This is going to take a bit more effort than running your card through a shredder.
“You want to be sure you cut through several different things,” says Douglas, including:
- The magnetic stripe: The mag stripe, as Douglas says, “Contains the keys to the kingdom” – all the information needed to validate a transaction. They’re also clone-able. In fact, the vulnerability of the magnetic stripe is why we’re converting to EMV chips in the first place.
So, be sure to slice the stripe up well.
“Normally, what I do is first cut it horizontally the length of the stripe and then vertically several more times,” Douglas says.
- Identifying information: Cut through the card number horizontally, and through your name as well.
Burn it: This is probably the most fool-proof method, according to Douglas, and one he personally uses.
“I live up pretty high up in the Rocky Mountains, so if I’ve got a fire going in the fire place, I just toss it in the fire and away it goes,” he says.
… But what if you have a metal card?
Several cards, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Marriott Rewards credit card, are made of metal. Because they thwart scissors and shredders, you can usually mail these cards back to the issuer for destruction. For those who’d rather destroy their cards themselves, we reached out to Dan Miller of Points with a Crew, a blogger who took on the Chase Sapphire Preferred – and won.
After cancelling the CSP when the annual fee kicked in, Miller researched plans of attack. “Scissors barely scratched it,” he says. “After doing a bit of research and reading up on various attempts, including burning — not a good idea, I ended up with some tin snips, which seemed to do the trick.”
However you destroy your old card, do it immediately; don’t activate the new card and leave the old one lying on the kitchen counter.
“Maybe you’re having work done in your house that day,” Douglas says. “So destroy it right away, as soon as you’ve activated [the new card]. Don’t leave it sitting around the house.”
Make sure you’re keeping your new card safe, too. With EMV (and lots of new cards) rolling out, thieves know that “mail is valuable right now,” says Douglas. So if you get a notice from your bank that a new card is on the way and don’t see it, call your issuer.
Disperse the remains
Put the cut-up card fragments into the trash bin, rather than the recycling bin, Douglas recommends. For most households, the trash bin is simply a larger container than the recycling bin, making its contents harder for thieves to sort. Just be sure to place the card pieces into two separate trash bags. Or do as Douglas does and place some inside a container you happen to be throwing out.
“That way, if someone’s dumpster-diving, they don’t find it all in one place,” Douglas says.
Why go through all that trouble?
After you activate your new card, it’s unlikely that a thief can take an old one straight to the store. So, why bother destroying it?
You can read more here about the many ways a thief can use a thrown-out card. In sum, any bit of information fraudsters glean from a card can be used to trick you into surrendering more information. That’s called social engineering, and it’s Douglas’s area of expertise.
“A good social engineer will contact you at your house and pretend to be the credit card company to con additional personal information out of you, so they can make a new card in your name,” Douglas says.
“They can also contact the credit card company, pretend to be you and work from that direction.”
The best protection, therefore, is making a thief decide you’re too much trouble and move on to another trash can.
“If you make a few extra steps to destroy the card, you’re going to be way ahead of the game compared to everyone else,” Douglas says. “A lot of people are just going to toss the card in the trash.”