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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 the big bucks on a brand new one.

However, there is one critical step that many people are forgetting to take before getting rid of an old device.

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 recently 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 haven’t properly deleted private documents saved on your device, they 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.

But why? 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

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 Eraser or Blank and Secure for Windows.

Eraser, in particular, has a lot of options for deleting data. It has a simple, clean interface, and can permanently erase data from any drive that works with Windows. You can even schedule deletions to happen automatically.

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.


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.


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 goes with 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 computer:

  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

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
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