Ditching old electronics without wiping them may open you to identity theft


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Upgrading smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other devices has become a regular part of the digital age. 

However, cybersecurity professionals say that failing to take care of data on a discarded device can make a person a prime target for identity theft. They encourage people to wipe data from old electronic devices before saying goodbye to them.

Some people don’t do that. 

“Someone like a child or my mom comes to mind,” said Melody Young, who repurposes old devices. Young will give her old device to someone who wants a better phone but wouldn’t just go out there and get a better phone upgrade.

Most people probably realize hard discs from computers or laptops store sensitive data. Other devices, like fax machines and printers, store everything they’ve ever seen during the machine’s life. 

The GEEP recycling facility in Durham both recycles old electronics and specializes in wiping old devices.

“We use a Department of Defense standard of wiping software that utilizes data sanitization to a one pass, three pass, or seven pass wipe, which basically removes all data,” Brooks Callisher said.

Whether it’s a phone, laptop, or other device, before it leaves your hands, scrub it clean, electronically.

“A lot of identity theft happens through dumpster diving,” said Mallory Wojciechowski with the Better Business Bureau of Eastern North Carolina.

An old device can contain sensitive financial statements, health records, as well as information about your family members. All of it is valuable to hackers.

“It can really change someone’s life,” said Mike Satter of OceanTech Data Decommissioning Service.

“Anything that you believe as an individual you want to protect, that’s what we’re talking about,” he said.

Some folks think there’s a simple fix.

“Just delete everything. Delete all,’’ said Tyler Elliot.

But, that’s not enough. Data itself remains deep in a hard drive waiting to be overridden.

“That could be something that could compromise you and I, our families or our businesses,” Satter said.

Andriod and Apple devices can be reset to factory settings, which returns it to the state the device was in when it was first taken out of the box. That’s a good option for most, but a sophisticated and determined hacker could still find the information they’re looking for.

A better option is to use third-party software that shows users, in real time, what it’s scrubbing and when it’s done.

Once it shows that it’s 100 percent sanitized, Satter says, “that’s telling you, ‘I am safe now. I am clear.’ Then you do whatever I want-keep it, give it to your son, your daughter, or sell it, no problem.”

The Lifewire technology, information and advice site says there are scores of free data wiping software options available. It lists 40 of them.

Brown University offers data removal recommendations that it says will help keep devices safe.

Motherboard also offers tips for sanitizing mobile devices and smartphones. That allows users to securely get rid of those units when they’ve outlived their usefulness.

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