Have a new laptop on your Christmas list this year? Maybe an iPad? Before you recycle your old computer, you’ll want to make sure that you don’t also send your personal data along for the ride.
Recycling electronics has gotten much easier and more convenient in recent years. To keep lead and heavy metals from batteries and other electronic components out of the environment, consumers are urged to use one of the many free programs that will collect and recycle your computer.
Electronics recycling is actually paid for upfront by the manufacturers through a legislatively-mandated surcharge. And, lest you think that it sounds like a hassle to take your computer to a recycling facility, some states will charge several hundred dollars – or more – for dumping instead of recycling.
Yet, while people are getting wiser as to the environmental benefits of recycling computers, they may not fully consider the risks of not cleaning private information off their hard drive. Could your social security number or bank account information be lingering somewhere making it a target for identity theft?
Fortunately, there are three easy ways to erase or destroy your hard drive to protect personal data:
- Downloading software and erasing the hard drive yourself
- Hiring a professional to wipe the hard drive clean – usually about $50
- Literally demolishing your hard drive with a hammer or screwdriver
- Removing the hard drive (a silver or black box about 3″ x 5″) and retaining it to access your data in the future
You might think that if you delete sensitive files from the computer, you are safe. But unless you erase or destroy the hard drive, some people have the technological savvy to access the very files you thought were gone.
If you are going to use a software program, be sure to read reviews prior to purchasing and using one. Some believe that, particularly for older computers (6 years or more), the most secure option is to physically destroy the hard drive. When hiring a professional to do the job, make sure that its someone you can trust! A number of companies offer a certificate of destruction that you can use as proof your personal data should not have been compromised.
Finally, smart phones are changing the way people recycle cell phones, as well. If you have an Internet browser on your phone and have used it to access email, online banking or other password-required sites, be sure to clear all information before getting a new phone.
In fact, the iPhone has an application that owners can use to remotely wipe the phone’s data clean if its lost or stolen. In my opinion, that’s an insurance app worth its price!