Second-hand computers an ID fraudster's paradise

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old_computer.gifNew research from Navigant Consulting suggests that slack handling of computers destined for the second-hand market could make them an identity-thief’s dream.

To demonstrate the potential dangers, the consultancy purchase three second-hand computers last week, and determined that one of them still contained sensitive personal information on the hard drive.

It’s not enough to simply wipe the hard drive using most basic operating system tools, as anyone with some tech knowledge can recover data from a disk that’s supposedly been wiped. Simply dumping the hard drives intact isn’t a good plan either – it’s akin to putting your paper-based financial documents in the waste bin without shredding them first.

One second-hand computer recovered from a community college still contained student and staff details, including names and addresses, budgets, payroll information, photos, and bank account details.

Andrew Durant, head of Navigant Consulting, expressed shock at the level of complacency in passing on or disposing of old computers, given the recent publicity about identity fraud.

“The message is simple,” he said. “If you can’t securely delete your data, don’t sell your computer. It is possible to download software from the internet to securely wipe data from your PC, or better still, take it to a reputable reseller and ask them to do it for you.

“If selling a computer, it is far better to destroy the hard-drive and replace
it with a new one, which can be bought for as little as £20. If the cost of a
new hard-drive is more than the price you hope to get from selling your
computer, then don’t sell it because of the risks.

“Even disposing of used hard-drives at the approved local council site isn’t
completely safe as hard-drives have resurfaced in such places as Lagos,
Nigeria, with the data recovered from them used in frauds.”

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Andy Merrett