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Discarding old PC, Mac or cellphone? Delete this

September 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
If you're getting rid of an old computer or cellphone, don't just toss it out or recycle the device before safely erasing your personal data. Unless you wipe out that information correctly, you could be putting your finances and other personal information at risk.

Many consumers shred their personal documents, like bank and credit card accounts. But they often don't take the same steps with their electronics, where private account and even password information may be stored.

Eyewitness News teamed up with Consumer Reports to show you the right way to erase all of your personal information.

What's on your personal computer? Your name, your bank account, even your credit-card information. Same with your phone. And recycling electronic devices without erasing that info is asking for trouble.

"You're literally giving your personal information out to the criminal world," said Larry Daniel, Guardian Digital Forensics.

The best way to protect yourself is to erase your personal data.

On the iPhone it's easy. Go to "Settings." Click on "General," then press "Reset" and select "Erase All Content and Settings."

Consumer Reports says erasing info on Android phones is a little more complicated. Usually you go to "Settings" and choose "Privacy." Then you have to consult the manual online for the next steps.

To erase a personal computer, you need to download software. A good choice is from DBAN.org.

"You download the software and put it onto a CD. Then you put the CD into the computer's disk drive and follow the instructions to erase the hard drive's contents," said Paul Reynolds, Consumer Reports.

With Apple computers, the original operating system DVD comes with software to erase your files.

"You put it into the computer's disk drive. And you reboot it, holding down the 'C' key during startup," said Reynolds.

Once the computer's booted up, choose "Utilities," then "Disk Utility." Select "Hard Drive," then hit "Erase."

If you think you don't have enough time to wipe your device, think again.

"Criminal enterprises live off of personal data. They love a hard drive that they can get their hands on," said Larry Daniel.

After you've erased your computer and cellphones, Consumer Reports says you should double-check that everything is gone.

And cellphones also come with external cards. If you don't plan to keep the card, erase it as well.


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