Image: Credit card © Floresco Productions-Corbis

Related topics: credit cards, identity theft, fraud, financial privacy, debit cards

In a world of escalating identity theft, one man's trash is another man's excuse to help himself to a new line of credit.

Making a few halfhearted snips with the scissors to your old credit cards just won't cut it anymore. Dumpster divers intent on looking for account numbers do not need much. Experts say even shredded cards can be pieced together by an earnest thief.

"Anything you put out on the street, you're saying, 'Have at it,'" said Jim Stickley, the author of "The Truth About Identity Theft" and a security expert who has done more than his share of picking through trash to identify security breaches for corporate clients.

Much of the identity theft that touches millions of Americans each year can be prevented with a few simple measures that take less than a minute. Here are six tips for doing it right:

1. Properly cut up your credit cards

Scissors can do a fine job of destroying a credit card -- provided you use them correctly.

After suffering from several cases of both credit card and identity fraud, blogger Jim Wang of developed a system for cutting his cards that involves slicing each set of four numbers into six pieces (see the video "How to destroy a credit card" for a demonstration). Make sure you also cut through your signature and the magnetic stripe on the card.

2. Completely shred your cards and documents

Shredders can also do the trick, but be sure your shredder is designed to handle credit cards and has a crosscutting function.

Such machines are typically twice the price of a normal shredder but still less than $100 -- worth the price to protect your credit.

3. Destroy magnetic stripes and chips

Wang recommends taking an extra step to deactivate a card's magnetic stripe and, if there is one, its RFID chip. To scramble the data in the magnetic stripe, run a very strong magnet along it.

Apply scissors or a hammer to the chip embedded in the card, as "all the information stored on the card is also stored on the magnetic stripe and the chip," Wang said. This takes just a few extra seconds.

4. Trash tip: Bag the pieces separately

To prevent curbside identity theft, deposit the pieces of your destroyed credit card into different trash cans around your house. The idea is that some receptacles are emptied more frequently than others, so if half of your destroyed credit card goes to the curb with the kitchen trash one week, the other half will go out with your office trash a different week.

This makes it nearly impossible for a thief to piece together your entire account number.

5. The recycling myth: It's not safer than trash

It's an unexplainable yet prevalent myth that recycling bins are somehow safer than trash bins for credit cards, statements and other sensitive documents, Stickley said. They are not. At a recycling center, materials pass through a conveyor belt, and employees pick through items to make sure only recyclable materials get through. Stickley said confidential information could easily be taken off the conveyor belt by someone who's looking for it.

Click here to become a fan of MSN Money on Facebook

If you want to recycle an item containing your account information, shred it first -- preferably with a crosscut shredder -- and follow the steps for bagging the pieces separately for maximum security.

6. Fire: The foolproof method

Of course, one way to completely eliminate any chance of credit card or identity theft is to incinerate all card-related documentation. Though it might not be the most Earth-friendly activity, credit cards can be melted down, and credit card statements, applications and blank checks from credit card companies can be burned.

"We use our bills for kindling. All our bills go into a bag right next to our fireplace," Stickley said.

With average identity fraud losses hovering around $5,000 per person, taking a minute to destroy your credit cards and sensitive documents is a no-brainer. It turns out that if you get creative with your methods, you can actually have some fun, too.

This article was reported by Cynthia J. Drake for