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Discarded cellphones are treasures for identity thieves

Apple does a better job of securely erasing your data than Android. The iPhone 3GS or later models automatically encrypt data if you have a passcode (screen lock) enabled.
Apple does a better job of securely erasing your data than Android. The iPhone 3GS or later models automatically encrypt data if you have a passcode (screen lock) enabled. Tribune

With the nonstop upgrading these days of digital devices like cellphones, many of us are frequently getting rid of outmoded models.

If you think that simply by erasing your data you are protecting yourself from others’ acquisition of your personal information, you are in for a rude awakening. Your data may still be retrievable by those with the right know-how.

Whether you are selling your old cellphone, trading it in or recycling it — and the same goes for other types of devices — you should take the extra time to protect yourself by being sure your information is no longer in it.

A recent article in Consumer Reports said that Avast, a maker of antivirus software, purchased 20 Android phones on eBay. They then discovered they were able to recover supposedly “erased” personal information on those phones.

The information included more than 40,000 stored photos, more than 750 e-mails and texts, contact names, addresses, some previous owners’ identities and even a completed loan application. Imagine what a real identity thief could do with that?

Erasing data

One convenient way to ensure that your Android phone’s data has been effectively erased is by going to the Google Play Store and installing the free Avast Anti-Theft software.

According to Consumer Reports, the easiest way to securely erase a smart phone or tablet is to encrypt the device first, and then do a factory reset. Be sure you have backed up any files you want to retain before doing so.

Non-Apple phones and tablets often have a small removable microSD memory card, which can house photos and other media files and app data. It is usually located beneath the back battery cover, either near the SIM card slot or behind the battery. It should be removed, as should the SIM card.

Because different makes of smartphones have different methods of encryption, you may want to do a search for “smartphone encryption” then follow the directions for your particular model of phone.

Apple does a better job of securely erasing your data than Android. The iPhone 3GS or later models automatically encrypt data if you have a passcode (screen lock) enabled.

Because of this, when you are ready to get rid of the phone a factory-reset securely deletes the passcode and encryption key. Follow your phone’s directions — under Settings, then General, then Passcode — to set your passcode. Be sure that data protection is enabled by toggling the switch for it to “on.”

A new report by AARP states that 12 percent of Americans 18 or over have been the victims of identity theft within the last year. Do not overlook the importance of thoroughly erasing your digital devices when you are ready to toss, sell, recycle or donate them.

Being proactive can save you from the prolonged headache of identity theft in the future.

Denise Groene is the state director of the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. Contact the bureau at 800-856-2417 or bbbinc.org.

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