Best Buy recently announced that it is testing an expanded electronics recycling program. In addition to the cell phone and ink cartridge collection that its stores have had for years, select stores will now accept old TVs, computers, and other electronics free of charge. While there are certainly positive environmental benefits to such programs, special steps should be taken to help protect your identity.
Before recycling any electronics that contain personal information, be sure to remove, erase, or destroy your data. Claims by companies like Best Buy that they will erase your data for you should not be trusted. There have been many reports of people being contacted by those who purchased their “recycled” cell phones on eBay, only to find contact lists, emails, and more still on the old phones. Your personal computer probably has much more sensitive data than your phone.
Removing data is more complicated than just hitting the Delete key. Deleting data usually just makes it difficult to find rather than actually removing it. You can imagine how taking the index card for a book from the card catalog (or entry in an electronic card catalog) would have a similar effect. Until the book is taken from the shelf and replaced by another, it’s merely lost and not actually gone. Programs exist to “wipe” your data and they can be quite effective. They essentially delete the data, and then repeatedly write junk data over the previous location.
Another option, which I prefer, is to remove storage media (hard drives, sim cards, etc.) before recycling electronics. Doing so allows me to drastically reduce my waste without putting my information at risk. Software methods may be able to accurately remove data, but putting a screwdriver through it, or archiving it in a secure location, works as well.
Identity theft is a major problem and can ruin your credit history. Protecting information from theft does much more good than insurance and notification measures after the theft can hope to accomplish. Safeguarding your personal information, including electronics that you plan to recycle, significantly reduces your risk of identity theft.
Saturday, June 21st, 2008 at 6:42 am