Do you know where the expired credit cards and debit cards you no longer use are? Do you know who got your account numbers embossed on the plastic? Your name? Your signature?
In case you are, like me, a holder of several credit and debit cards, then you probably receive renewal cards and replacement cards every now and then.
The credit card companies tend to push the expiration dates longer into the future recently. My older cards were expiring every 2 years, then it changed to 3 years, now my newest card arrived with the expiration date 4 years into the future. Yet, we still have to change the cards once in a while.
So what happens with these old cards we no longer need?
First something to remember: they still can be used. The magnetic stripe still encodes your account number, and your name. They are also embossed on the plastic, and your signature is still there as well. If the card falls into the wrong hands – it can be used, because it’s not hard to guess the new expiration date knowing the old one. Just add 2,3,4 years, you’ll get there.
It is true that every new renewal of the card will change the “3 digits” security number embossed on it invalidating the old one, but it is also true that not every merchant checks it. Also, if you request a replacement card, or an additional card for a family member – the security number may remain the same (because you’re issued a copy of a card you had, basically). Throwing such a card away when you no longer need it is basically throwing your own valid credit card away.
So, what do you do with your old credit cards?
Here’s what I do:
1. Cut them into small pieces (if possible – shred with a cross-cut shredder).
2. Throw the pieces in several different trash bags, on several different occasions. For example – some parts in the recycle bin, some in the trash bin, spread over several weeks (so that they won’t meet the other pieces at least until they reach the land-fill, certainly not be all available at once for someone picking through you trash to glue back together).
3. Make a special effort to make sure that the magnetic stripe is damaged. If you cut – make sure to cut across the stripe. You can even use an office paper puncher to make holes in it. Put a fridge magnet on it for several seconds and move it along the stripe. That will ensure the magnetically encoded information (such as your account number and name) is damaged, if not totally wiped off.
4. Remember where all your cards are. Even the old ones you no longer use. If you don’t need the card for a long period of time – destroy it as described in 1-3, and if you want to “revive” it – call the credit card company and ask for replacement. If you don’t want to use the card at all – ask not to send you replacements, and make sure the address is updated with the credit card companies at all time.
5. In addition – don’t forget that your credit card number is printed in full on your statements. If possible – switch to paperless statements, and pay bills using on-line bill pay service or ACH transfer. If you receive paper statements – make sure to shred them with a cross-cut shredder.
Your Little Advisor