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Biggest mistake people make when getting rid of old computers, gear and printers

Do you have any old tech piling up just collecting dust? If so, you may be thinking about donating or selling it. This is a good idea, especially since gadget prices are skyrocketing. Tons of people are in the market for a gently used smartphone or computer, rather than spend big bucks for a brand new one.

However, there is one critical step that many people are forgetting to take before getting rid of their old devices. Tap or click here for 10 once-useful things tech has made obsolete.

They forget to permanently delete sensitive data, and that’s a huge mistake.

Never hand over personal information by mistake

People have been selling and donating old tech for years. One security researcher decided to find out just how many people remembered to delete their personal information before handing over their old devices. You’ll be surprised at just how many did not erase them properly.

Josh Frantz purchased 85 devices from businesses that sold refurbished, donated and used computers. He ended up spending about $600 on a bunch of desktop and laptop computers, flash drives, memory cards, hard disk drives and a few cellphones.

Frantz posted what he discovered on his rapid7 blog — and it was pretty shocking!

Of the 85 devices he bought, only two were wiped properly. Most of the devices still had tons of information on them.

With help from a script he wrote, Frantz found 214,019 images, 148,903 emails and 3,406 documents. From all that, he was able to see email addresses, dates of birth, Social Security and credit card numbers. Yikes!

Don’t let this happen to you. Before donating or selling a device, you need to make sure everything has been deleted properly.

If you don’t wipe your device, information can be found later on down the road. All those deleted letters, financial documents and compromising photos are still lurking on the computer. All it takes is a little know-how to recover them.

When a file is deleted, your operating system removes the link to the file and marks the space free. Until it’s overwritten by new information, that file will still exist on your hard drive.

If you consider the size of hard drives, it could be some time until that file is really gone for good. And just think about that old computer you’re going to sell on eBay. You could be turning over your entire digital life to a stranger. Who wants that?

Note: Don’t forget to backup your data before deleting it.

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Permanently erase sensitive data

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If you are selling or donating and old computer, you need to erase sensitive data for good. Here’s how:

Windows PC

You can get rid of personal data by using software tools like Blank and Secure for Windows.

Blank and Secure is a portable deletion tool you can store on a USB stick. It “shreds” files by overwriting the data with zeros before deleting, making recovery impossible. Tap or click here to learn more about Blank and Secure.


When MacOS Sierra was released, Apple removed the secure delete option for both the Trash Can and the Terminal. To shred files you’d like to remove from Macs, you’ll need to use a shredding app like Secure Delete – File Shredder; however, it does cost $4.99 to download.

In case you didn’t know, popular cross-platform tool CCleaner for PCs and Macs not only does automatic clean-up of your browser cookies, trackers, internet history, download history, cache and even individual session activity. It also has an option for Secure Deletion of files. Tap or click here for more information on CCleaner.


If you’re getting rid of an old iPhone or Android phone, you must do a hard reset first. This will make sure none of your sensitive data stays on the device.

To hard reset an iPhone directly on the device itself, follow these steps:

  1. Open Settings > General
  2. Now tap Reset
  3. Select “Erase All Content and Settings
  4. Tap “Erase iPhone” on the prompt
  5. Enter your Apple ID password then tap “Erase” to begin the factory reset process

To hard reset an iPhone using a Mac running macOS Mojave 10.14 or earlier, or with a Windows PC:

  1. Connect your iPhone to your computer via USB
  2. Open iTunes
  3. Select your iPhone or iPad when it appears in iTunes (next to iTunes Store button in the top right corner).
  4. Click on the Restore button in the Summary tab to restore it to its factory settings

To hard reset your iPhone on a Mac running macOS Catalina 10.15 or newer:

  1. Open Finder
  2. Connect your phone to the computer
  3. Choose Trust This Computer an input your passcode if prompted
  4. Follow onscreen steps
  5. Select your device when it appears
  6. Sign out of Finy My iPhone
  7. Click Restore
  8. Click Restore again to confirm

That’s all there is to resetting your iPhone exactly the way it was when you bought it brand new.


To perform a factory reset on an Android phone, follow these steps:

  1. Go to your phone’s Settings
  2. Tap Backup & Reset
  3. Select Factory data reset
  4. Choose Reset phone
  5. Enter passcode and Erase everything
  6. Reboot

If you have further questions about resetting your Android device, visit Google’s support page for more information.

Amazon Echo

There are a few ways to reset an Echo. For the Dot (3rd Generation), follow these simple steps:

  1. Press and hold the Action button
  2. Wait for the orange ring and that’s it!

For help with resetting other Echo products, visit Amazon’s support page.

Nest Cam

Depending on the type of camera you own, you may be able to factory reset it by simply pressing the reset button on the front or back of the device. If it doesn’t have a button, turn to your Nest app.

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Look for the option to remove the camera and tap it.

While some of these devices are extremely simple to wipe clean, others require a bit more work. Either way, it’s well worth the effort. The next time you want to get rid of your devices, just make sure you’re not handing over your digital life, too.

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