As more and more people are “going green” this includes decisions to recycle their old computer to charities, schools or even just dumping them thinking they are no longer working. But what about the information that is stored on those computers? Did you really erase your identity in the form of documents, spreadsheets, photos and other important information.. important to identity thieves that is!
As needs change and options abound, consumers often upgrade computers faster than they upgrade cars. Depending on the original cost and condition of the computers, some people offer a trade in to dealers that offer used computers and others give away their old computers to family or friends. Some simply drop them off at a recycle center and many choose to donate old computers to after school programs, struggling schools or other charities. In all cases, it would seem a good deed is done. Whether consumers opt for a resale, reuse, recycle or donation, they often believe they’ve made a earth friendly and society friendly choice for their old computer. The problem is, of course, that with identity theft no longer becoming but now the fastest growing white-collar crime, the hands your old computer lands in may not be safe. You’ve heard that no good deed is left unturned and if your old computer falls into the wrong hands, you can be sure the traceable information left on it won’t be unnoticed.
So you’ve erased all of your files from your hard drive, right? Consumer Reports conducted a study using drives purchased on e-bay and ran simple and inexpensive software available to anyone.
What Was Found on These Supposedly Cleaned Hard drives purchased from e-bay?
*A Microsoft Word tax document including salary information
* Quicken files with expense and finance data
* A MySpace account, complete with name and password
* Outlook express e-mails
* Lists of favorite web sites
* Love letters and photographs
These computers were all described by sellers as “reformatted” or “wiped cleaned.”
In a larger study, a research fellow at Harvard University examined over 1,000 hard drives and found only one third of them were properly cleaned. Microsoft Windows doesn’t claim to have an easy or secure way to erase your entire hard drive and recommends using third party software. Mac OS X has a feature to permanently erase Trash files but it has been reported to be slow and only 10.3 or later versions can permanently erase entire hard drives.
Inside Edition also checked out the possibilities and probabilities of identity theft for well meaning citizens who donated their computers to Good Will. The 25 computers purchased in the east coast hubs for as little as $30.00, as well as four computers picked up from a dumpsite held not just surprising but alarming information.
Computer expert Steve Elderkin who examined the hard drives shares that “Of all the hard drives, not one was cleaned of any of the information. Depending on the hard drive itself, you could have all the data in a matter of minutes with almost no work.”
An Arlington, VA resident who believed he had erased all of the information on his hard drive was shocked to learn that within minutes, experts had found both his and his wife’s social security numbers. Social security numbers are of course a jackpot for identity thieves who can easily use a social security numbers to connect the dots for identity theft with other easy to access information. A social security number is a winning lottery number to gain access to your financial or medical credit. In addition to social security numbers, the expert found these do-gooders’ passwords and information from his tax return.
“That’s just about enough to give you a heart attack seeing that,” the computer donator shared. “I was absolutely floored.”
Before you donate, give away, or recycle your old computer, see clear be not to give away personal information that in the wrong hands, could rob you blind. Consider options like WipeDrive from WhiteCanyon.com who have been providing security solutions since 1998 or Eraser, which is free at www.heidi.ie/eraser.
If you’ve used your computer to make purchases, do taxes or finances or monitor bank accounts, be sure you completely erase your identity before you “give away” this computer and information to identity thieves.