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Old Electronics Could Hand Crooks Your Identity
When discarding computerized electronics, such as PDAs, cell phones, and computers, you may be setting yourself up as an identity theft victim. How? By improperly erasing--or not erasing at all--your personal information from the device.
Data deleted via the computer's recycling bin only erases the record of the file, not the data the file points to. With the right tools, deleted data often is still 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.
Identity theft can cost victims countless hours and dollars trying to salvage their credit and clear their name. Follow these tips to help protect yourself:
For mobile devices:
* Consult the user's manual or manufacturer's Web site for advice about permanently resetting the device.
* Remove SIM (subscriber identity module) cards from phones containing them.
* Delete the contact list; any lists of calls; voice mail, e-mail, and text messages; organizer folders; Web search history; and photos.
* Follow the manufacturer's guide for properly erasing USB drives or iPods, which may hold private data as well.
* Be sure to totally erase your hard drive (so it's "wiped")--either hire someone or do it yourself.
* If wiping the drive yourself, go to download.com and type "erase hard drive" into the search box. Here, you can find downloadable software that safely and permanently erases data from your hard drive.
After data is deleted, companies such as Green Disk (greendisk.com) safely recycle and dispose of a variety of electronic devices. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency offers information about recycling programs at epa.gov.