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Credit Card Destruction

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In Real Life, a credit card that has reached its credit limit will be declined if used for additional transactions. In fiction, however, merchants will cut up the card and give the pieces back to the customer. This is almost always the start of a Credit Card Plot.

Although a card issuer can request this via a message through the card terminal, the merchant must retain the pieces of destroyed card and return them to the bank— not the customer.note  It generally happens when the card is reported stolen, not due to a mere lack of credit.

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Before electronic payment terminals became ubiquitous in the 2000s, many merchants processed credit card payments using a mechanical imprinter which only made a paper copy of the card number. With no way to verify with the bank in real time that the card had available credit, merchants would hand over the goods and wouldn't find out until weeks later that the card was declined and they were on the hook for the lost amount. Therefore, it was critical that when a merchant did come across an invalid card, it had to be destroyed so that the customer couldn't defraud other merchants with it later on.

As more countries transition to payment terminals which allow the customer to swipe, insert, or tap their own card without handing it to the merchant, this is becoming a Discredited Trope.


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Examples

Film

  • In Electric Dreams, Edgar the Computer gets mad at Miles, the man who accidentally made him sentient, so Edgar hacked the credit card company, invalidating Miles' card, and getting the store cashier to cut up the card.
  • In Hackers, the main FBI agent's credit card is shredded at a restaurant after his account has been hacked.
  • In The Flintstones movie at one point the wives are shopping and the cashier tells one of them that her credit card is no good and smashes it with a hammer (it was a piece of rock).
  • Happens to Mr. Bloom in Ocean's Twelve after Benedict tries to get his money back from the crew that robbed him in the first film.
  • In Say Anything..., the first sign of Mr. Court's impending arrest for fraud is when he tries to buy Dianne a gift and the store clerk apologetically informs him that she has to destroy his card.
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  • In the romantic comedy Priceless this trope plays out in a different way. Irene is a Gold Digger who has finally landed a marriage proposal from Jacques, who is super-rich but twice her age. After he falls asleep she tiptoes out of the room for a night of passion with Jean, an old one-night-stand of hers. She tiptoes back into the room the next morning after another one-night-stand...only to find her credit card on the end table cut in two. Jacques, who woke up early and found her missing, also found out she cheated on him. He dumps her.

Literature

  • Friday. When a person inserts an expired/cancelled credit card into a slot to pay for something, the device will destroy the card using a "destruction bolt" accompanied by the smell of burning plastic.

Live-Action TV

  • When Charlie goes broke in Two and a Half Men, the grocery store shreds his credit card to pieces when Berda attempts to use it to pay for groceries.
  • Cheers: As a prank, Norm & Cliff get Frasier's credit card number and call it in as stolen just before he uses it at the bar to buy drinks for some important clients. Sam tells Frasier it's been declined and that he is required to cut it up in front of Frasier.
  • Charles in Charge: Charles gets a credit card and plans on using it responsibly. The group he's "In Charge" of get a hold of it and run up a big bill. The first time he tries to use it, on a date at a fancy restaurant, it gets declined and cut.
  • Happened to Paul twice in Mad About You when he was mistakenly declared dead.
  • In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Philip tells his own kids, Hillary, Carlton, and Ashley that they should learn from Will's example since he had a job and was paying for his own things, and chastised the latter two for purchases that amounted to a few dozen dollars, which Vivian doesn't think is a big deal, and reminds Phillip to wear his reading glasses. However, when Vivian tells Philip that Hillary's shopping bills amount to a few thousand dollars, he takes her credit cards away, and Vivian makes her watch as Phillip snaps them in half, causing Hillary to let out a piercing scream.
  • In the Zoey 101 episode "Logan Gets Cut Off", Logan uses his father's credit card to buy a car, which at the time of 2005, cost $327,000. Mr. Reese is furious, because he expected Logan to use the card for education and nourishment only, not such frivolous purchases. He comes over to PCA, cuts him off as the episode title says, and orders Logan to give up the credit card. When he reluctantly does, Mr. Reese grabs a pair of scissors. Logan, seeing this, panics and desperately begs for his father to stop carrying out the deed. But he cuts it in half, causing Logan to have a MASSIVE Freak Out over the fact that he can't use any of his father's money anymore. And to add insult to injury, his father gives him back the broken pieces of credit card, as if they could still be of some use.

Western Animation

  • In the pilot episode of 6teen, the Khaki Barn staff cut Caitlyn's credit card in half while she's holding it in her hand, commencing the series' Credit Card Plot.
  • During the "Make the Most of It" musical number from The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Kids", Nicole can be seen in tears after Larry cuts her credit card in half at the mall.
  • House of Mouse: In the short "Mickey Foils the Phantom Blot", the Phantom Blot steals Professor Von Drake's unlimited card to go on a bank-robbing spree, and Mickey eventually takes it and snips it in half.
    Mickey: Too late, Blot! Credit denied!

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