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Consumer Archive

Consumer

Discard your electronics without compromising your ID

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MADISON, Wis. (7/14/08)--When discarding computerized electronics, such as PDAs (personal digital assistants), cell phones, and computers, you may be setting yourself up as an identity theft victim by improperly erasing--or not erasing at all--your personal information from the device, says the Credit Union National Association's center for personal finance. Deleting data via the computer’s recycling bin erases only the record of the file, not the data the file points to. With the right tools, the “deleted” data still is retrievable. Similarly, erasing data on cell phones or PDAs by resetting them--or using the “clear” option on the interface--leaves private information stored in flash memory and available for thieves, according to the website of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Information Services and Technology (IS&T), Cambridge, Mass. Identity theft is a steadily growing crime and can cost victims endless hours and dollars trying to salvage their credit and clear their name. However, you can protect yourself. IS&T suggests several ways to wipe out personal data when selling or recycling old equipment. For mobile devices:
* Reset the device. Consult the user’s manual or manufacturer’s website for advice, or visit Wireless Recycling at recellular.com/recycling/data_eraser/ for other helpful information; * If your phone has a SIM card, remove it. These portable memory chips carry potentially harmful personal information; and * Follow manufacturer’s guidelines for properly erasing private data from USB drives or iPods.
For computers:
* Be sure to completely erase the hard drive (so it’s “wiped”)--either hire someone or do it yourself; and * For do-it-yourselfers, check out Software Options at web.mit.edu/ist/topics/security/media_sanitizing.html#4 for tools that meet government security standards, and then permanently erase all data from your hard drive.
Companies such as Green Disk safely recycle and dispose of a variety of electronic devices--cell phones, computers, PDAs, CDs, and much more. Finally, consider physically destroying an item if you’re not sure about the safety of your personal information.