Why should I cut up my credit card?

Recently, some one got a hold of my card and was making fraudulent charges on it. My card company was Johnny on the spot and called me to verify the charges (side note: I had no way of verifying they were who they said they were, so they did the right thing and told me to call the number on the back of my card. You can’t be too vigilant!). When I finally got a rep. on the line, they canceled my card and sent me out a new one. Done deal.

But then they tell you, “cut up your card”. Why? If the number was stolen and we’re de-activating it so it can’t be used again, why cut up the card? In fact, why would you ever cut up the card? I guess if you think that cutting it up an active card will stop you from using it, then you should do a good job and cut it real good. But otherwise, I can’t think of a reason. My 5 minutes of googling didn’t find an answer either.

Do any of my faithful readers have an answer?

Update: There’s some good discussion below, but more notable is my comeuppance! After writing this post, I got not, one, not two, but three copies of my new card. Now I have the need to trash three credit cards that are all not canceled. Oh the horror!

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7 Comments


  1. I remember hearing a horror story a long time ago about people getting charges on their already cancelled cards and having a credit report hassle.

    However, I also can’t find anything on google to confirm that.

    Reply

  2. My coworker suggests that the loophole is a recurring charge which is given a grace period after the card is canceled. So, given a motivated, sophisticated attacker, they would:

    1. Attacker steals your card
    2. You notice, cancel your card
    3. Attacker somehow (digs through trash?) finds out you have a recurring charge with vendor, say t-mobile.
    4. Attacker takes your card and buys gift cards at t-mobile which goes through the same grace period accepted charge route, despite card being canceled.
    5. Profit!

    Reply

  3. Sure, but that is orthogonal to the shredding of your card. The attacker already has the card, so shredding it doesn’t magically take it away from them.

    Does the attacker need to have a physical card in order the buy the gift cards in this scenario?

    Can’t the attacker create a physical card since they already have your card info? Maybe if the attacker only has card number and not CCV there’s something there?

    And if the attacker stole the physical card in step 1. above, you’ve got nothing to shred…

    Reply

    1. So, sorry, there’s some semantic hassle going on with the phrase “steal your card”.

      If the attacker only stole your card number, then there’s nothing that shredding your physical card will do to prevent them from doing more stuff with the stolen number (assuming there’s anything they can do with the stolen number)

      If the attacker stole your physical card, then there’s nothing for you to cut up.

      It’s possible that there are some shenanigans that could be done with a physical card even after it’s been canceled that can’t be done with just the card number, but
      * I don’t think we’ve seen any evidence/description of such potential shenanigans
      * In some cases, a physical card can be created from a stolen card number (maybe CCV is also required here)

      I don’t see how the grace period shenanigan described above is relevant to the discussion.

      Reply

      1. All good points! I think in my initial scenario wasn’t as well thought out as I’d thought it was to match my “why shred” question. It shoulda been something like:

        1. Attacker Foo steals your card number, not the card.
        2. You notice fraudulent charges, cancel your card, throwing away you’re card and don’t cut it up
        3. Attacker Bar, unrelated to Foo, digs through your trash finds uncut card AND that you have a recurring charge with vendor, say t-mobile.
        4. Attacker Bar takes your card and buys gift cards at t-mobile which goes through the same grace period accepted charge route, despite card being canceled.
        5. Profit!

        Still a bit far fetched. I think Bar in this cause could do a lot more damage by, say, opening your mail with your credit card statements. Much easier and less stinky than digging through your trash.

        Reply

  4. Aha. Okay, so that’s an example of a shenanigan that could be done with the physical card if it’s not shredded.

    You are the second google hit for “why should i cut up my canceled credit card” :)

    But I also found this:

    http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/credit-card-tips-on-closing-accounts-1267.php
    “It is important to cut up closed credit card accounts by cutting through the account number. This prevents someone else from stealing your credit card and reopening the account.”

    So there’s another prospective shenanigan. I guess if they get enough information about you they could call customer service and try to reopen the account. I think that’s probably unlikely in the case of fraud, but maybe possible if you canceled an account for other reasons.

    I’d also like to note that cutting through the numbers is a bad idea – it’s possible to guess numbers if you only have half, so cutting through the numbers makes it easier to reconstruct the card number, not harder.

    I think I agree with you that there’s no logical reason to cut up the card if the account is closed for fraud. However, I don’t think I could feel right about throwing it in the trash whole. It’s a superstitious feeling.

    Reply

  5. I think there are also some systems that process credit cards in batches. I think some Airlines that take credit cards, but don’t have access to verify them in the air do it when they land. So if you had a card you could use it at those type of places.

    Reply

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