When it comes to tossing into the rubbish your old computer device, out of sight means out of mind, right? Well yeah, maybe to the user. But let’s tack something onto that well-known mantra: Out of site, out of mind, into criminal’s hands.
Your discarded smartphone, laptop or what-have-you contains a goldmine for thieves—because the device’s memory card and hard drive contain valuable information about you.
Maybe your Social Security number is in there somewhere, along with credit card information, checking account numbers, passwords…the whole kit and caboodle. And thieves know how to extract this sensitive data.
Even if you sell your device, don’t assume that the information stored on it will get wiped. The buyer may use it for fraudulent purposes, or, he may resell to a fraudster.
Only 25 states have e-waste recycling laws. And only some e-waste recyclers protect customer data. And this gets cut down further when you consider that the device goes to a recycling plant at all vs. a trash can. Thieves pan for gold in dumpsters, seeking out that discarded device.
Few people, including those who are very aware of phishing scams and other online tricks by hackers, actually realize the gravity of discarding or reselling devices without wiping them of their data. The delete key and in some cases the “factory reset” setting is worthless.
To verify this widespread lack of insight, I collected 30 used devices like smartphones, laptops and desktops, getting them off of Craigslist and eBay. They came with assurance they were cleared of the previous user’s data.
I then gave them to a friend who’s skilled in data forensics, and he uncovered a boatload of personal data from the previous users of 17 of these devices. It was enough data to create identity theft. I’m talking Social Security numbers, passwords, usernames, home addresses, the works. People don’t know what “clear data” really means.
The delete button makes a file disappear and go into the recycle bin, where you can delete it again. Out of sight, out of mind…but not out of existence.
What to Do
Search the name of your device and terms such as “factory reset”, “completely wipe data”, reinstall operating system” etc and look for various device specific tutorials and in some cases 3rd party software to accomplish this.