By: Trey Sikes and Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis
So you were lucky enough to get your hands on that cool new gadget you’ve had your eye on for a while—possibly a new smartphone, tablet or laptop. Now, it’s time to get rid of your old device to make way for the new. But do you just toss it in the trash can? Well, technically, you could; however, it wouldn’t be a safe move (or an environmentally friendly one, either).
The problem is that, for our convenience, the technology we use every day stores a lot of personally identifiable information (PII). This can include financial data, account numbers, passwords, Social Security numbers and so much more than you may realize. And if you don’t take the right steps to properly dispose of your old devices, you could be dropping all that information right into the laps of criminals, who could use it to steal your identity or commit fraud.
While you might be itching to quickly ditch your old gadget, try to resist the temptation. Take the time to follow the crucial steps below to protect yourself and securely dispose of your device, because it could very well help you avoid trouble later on.
First, make sure all the information you want and need on your old device is backed up (i.e., saved) somewhere else, such as an external hard drive, a computer or another storage device. This will allow you to access your data elsewhere once you dump your gear.
The backup process for smartphones is fairly easy. Usually you can just use your phone’s USB cable to connect it to a computer and transfer over any files you don’t want to lose, such as photos or videos. Once the phone is plugged in, you can choose to either follow the on-screen instructions to open the files and save them to that computer, or automatically sync them to the cloud (i.e., online storage). If you have any trouble transferring data—especially when it comes to long contact lists—reach out to your mobile service provider for help.
If you’re backing up a computer, the process of moving files from one computer to another can be a bit more detailed, since computers can store a lot more information than phones. Find out how many gigabytes (GB) of data you have stored on your computer, how much information you actually want to keep, and how much storage space you’ll need in your backup memory drive in order to save it. Today’s SD cards can hold up to a whopping 512 GB of files, and flash drives can now hold up to an incredible 2 terabytes (TB)—however, the ultra-capacity SD cards and flash drives are a lot more expensive than their typical 16, 32 or 64 GB counterparts. When saving a larger number of files, your best bet is to use a large-capacity external hard drive (which is a much more affordable option), or to purchase hardware that will allow you to transfer your files from your old computer to your new one.
Not sure how to get the job done? You can always call a professional for help. Whether you go the DIY route or not, just be sure to back up everything you’re not willing to part with—because once it’s gone, there’s no turning back.
Here’s something you may not know: Simply hitting the “delete” button on your device won’t completely erase your files; it’ll just hide them from plain view. If you just delete everything and throw out your gadget, a tech-savvy hacker can easily recover your data. You’ll have to do what’s known as wiping—a more secure way of clearing out your phone, tablet, computer, etc.
For smartphones, tablets and other smaller-scale gadgets, restoring the devices’ factory settings will wipe out your personal information. Just do a quick Internet search for “how to do a factory reset” for your specific device, and you should be able to quickly find easy-to-follow instructions. Repeating the process a few times should ensure that your phone/tablet is fully wiped. For Android™ devices, read this article from The Atlantic, which has important information about how you can make sure your device is secure before doing a factory reset. If your gadget has a removable SD card, don’t forget to take it out—and either keep it or destroy it—before moving on to the next step. Once the device is wiped, test it to make sure everything’s gone.
When it comes to computers, the internal hard drive should be physically destroyed to ensure no one can access the information on it. Removing it and smashing it yourself with a hammer, however, doesn’t always do the trick—and it could even lead you to hurting yourself. The safest option is to bring it to a trusted professional who can do it right.
Now, it’s finally time to say goodbye to your old phone/computer/tablet. There are several different ways to offload your device. No matter what you decide to do, make sure you do it the smart way. (And make sure your device is wiped first!)
Once you’ve gotten rid of your old device in a secure way, you can be at ease knowing your information is safe—and you can better enjoy your new toys!
Share with us in the comments below: What kind of new tech have you bought or received recently?
The content provided in this blog consists of the opinions and ideas of the author alone and should be used for informational purposes only. VyStar Credit Union disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information provided.