How to stop cyber thieves from stealing personal information from old devices

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

DENVER – Are you getting ready to upgrade some of your electronic devices this holiday season? If the answer is yes, there are some things you need to know about before ditching your old ones.

Whether you plan to throw away, sell or trade in your older laptops, tablets and smartphones, experts say you may be making a huge mistake.

“It’s really easy for a consumer to leave personal information on a device,” Dave Gates with Device Pitstop told FOX31.

Gates says he sees customers come in all the time who don’t realize they’ve left sensitive personal data on their electronic devices. As people shuffle through devices quicker, he says more people are falling victim to cyber thieves.

“Sometimes it can be a simple password to Amazon or Google where your credit card is already on file,” he explained.

Gates was once a victim of identity theft through fraudulent tax returns.

“It takes a lot of time and effort and dollars to really get your identity back,” he said.

Now, he is determined to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to his customers. He says there are strict rules everyone should follow when ditching dated devices.

Laptops are the toughest to erase completely. Simply moving files to the “recycle bin” and deleting them only deletes the files from the operating system, not the hard drive. Hard drives must be written over in order to wipe it clean. And sometimes, even that isn’t good enough.

“Data thieves can steal data off hard drives that have been erased once or even twice,” Gates said.

He says three times is a charm, according to the U.S. Department of Defense standards. You need special software to erase a hard drive correctly.

”It can take anywhere between two and ten hours,” a Device Pitstop employee explained during a software demonstration.

Device Pitstop or any computer repair shop should have the necessary equipment. There are also some free software downloads available, but, according to Gates, they are likely not up to Department of Defense standards.

Wiping phones and tablets can easily be done at home in under a minute.

For Apple devices:

  • Click on “Settings”
  • Scroll down and click on “General”
  • Go all the way to the bottom, to “Reset”
  • Select “Erase All Content and Settings”

For Android Devices:

  • Go to “Apps”
  • Select “Settings”
  • Under the “Users and Backup” section, select “Backup and Reset”
  • Click “Factory data reset”

“As if you just got it out of the box that is what it’s going to set to. It’s not going to have your contacts, your information,” the employee explained.

While relatively easy to do, Gates says purging personal data is something consumers often overlook before passing their devices off to strangers.

“Do things right a few simple steps now and you won’t pay the price later,” he advised.