When you are ready to upgrade to a new computer, you need to do more than shut down and dispose of your old one to stay safe. Even if you’ve deleted all of the files, the old computer may still hold your personal and financial information.
The reason for this is the way information is stored on the hard drive, where files are often broken into smaller bits. When you delete a file, you are actually deleting the instructions for finding and putting together those pieces, but not the pieces themselves. This means crafty hackers can access the information with data recovery programs.
Your old computer likely contains sensitive information such as passwords, account numbers, software registration keys, tax returns and medical records. To keep your information safe when getting rid of an old computer, the Better Business Bureau offers the following tips:
• Transfer your files to your new computer, an external hard drive or to secure cloud storage.
• Once you’ve saved or transferred your files, use a utility program that overwrites, or wipes, the old hard drive to ensure that the data cannot be recovered.
• If you use your personal computer for work, check with your employer for how to manage information on your computer related to customers.
• If you are unable to start up your computer to access and wipe the hard drive, you should remove the hard drive from the computer and destroy it.
• When outsourcing the destruction of a hard drive to a reputable service, be sure to ask if the location is secure, if employees are thoroughly screened, if you’re allowed to watch the destruction – and if not, then what proof you will receive that the destruction has occurred and if the waste is recycled according to regulations.
• Computers are built with materials and heavy metals that can be hazardous and contaminate the Earth and groundwater. Dispose of it safely. You can donate your electronics to charity, resell them online, or recycle them by locating a free service through the E-Cycle Washington program at http://1800recycle.wa.gov.
For more tips you can trust, visit the BBB at www.bbb.org or call (509) 455-4200.
Erin T. Dodge, BBB editor