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Special Report: Digital Security

Updated: Tuesday, April 21 2015, 11:11 AM EDT
Special Report: Digital Security story image
If you're planning to buy a new computer or smart phone you may want to think twice before getting rid of your old ones. Your used electronics can give criminals an easy way to steal your identity.  Some people sell their old electronics through companies or online but even if you erase the data yourself before handing your old computer or phone over, you may not realize there's a digital footprint that never goes away.

You could say our lives revolve around our smart phones and computers. That's one reason identity thieves target them and those crimes are investigated by Waynesville Police Department's Lieutenant Chris Chandler. He says, "So many of us depend upon electronics to do our banking and to make purchases."

Whether it's business or chatting with friends, we enter a lot of personal information online making it easy for criminals to steal our identities. Chandler says, "Just in the last couple of weeks we've had some elderly couples come in that started noticing 99 cent charges or $19 dollar charges on their bank account."

You could also become a victim when you get rid of your smart phone or computer. That's why Chandler doesn't. Simply saying, “I've got every laptop I've ever owned and with cell phones I've never traded one in."

But if you're like most people you sell your old computers and smart phones. You can delete most of the data yourself but savvy criminals still know how to find it. Jon Feichter is an I-T Expert and says, "There are echoes of that data still there." Feichter owns a company called "New Meridian" in Waynseville. He says doing a factory reset on your smart phone will wipe out most of the data and you can buy software to clear out a computer's hard drive but it's not always easy. Feichter describes the process, "Put the operating system disc into the hard drive, boot the computer and when it asks you 'what do you want to do?' there would be an option to allow you to delete the logical construct on the hard drive."

If you didn't follow that, you're not alone. Our computers have our personal information on them and if somebody really wants to they could open it up and examine the hard drive. The drive's disc contains all of your information and there's only one way to guarantee that information doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Feichter has a solution, "We use a sledge hammer, okay. We physically beat it."

Smashing a hard drive to smithereens not only prevents thieves from destroying your credit, it may also help you to sleep a little better at night. Chandler says the potential for someone taking over your life is, "Scary but, you know, it's the world in which we live in."

Once again, there are software packages and factory commands you can use to wipe out most of the data from a computer's hard drive. You can also remove the hard drive altogether before selling it. Most importantly, remember to always backup your computer or smart phone on an external hard drive or operating system in case it's ever lost or stolen.
Special Report: Digital Security
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