Monday, December 22, 2008

Credit Card Information at Risk When Throwing Away an Old Computer

With the rapid pace of technological innovation today, the computer you just bought a year ago may already seem outdated. So it's likely you regularly buy a new one. But what to do with the "old" computer? While there a number of options for getting rid of a PC, simply throwing away your computer may be the worst idea, as it can provide a danger to the environment and public health, as well as to sensitive personal data, including your credit card information.

Your computer, like most electronic devices, contains mercury, cadmium, and other hazardous materials. These substances can be hazardous if dumped in a landfill. As a result, it is worthwhile to investigate ways to safely recycle or dispose of your PC.

Your credit card information is also as risk when you simply throw a computer into the trash. If you have made Internet purchases on your PC, or perhaps saved budgeting information to your hard drive, sensitive credit card and financial information could be on your computer. Even if you erased files by throwing them into the computer's Recycle Bin, they can still exist on your hard drive.

There is good reason to be concerned about who could get ahold of the information on your old computer. Banking information and credit card details taken from the hard drives of computers that were recycled or put on the used market have been sold in places as far away as Nigeria. Whoever buys the discarded computers can recover data from unerased hard drives, making your credit card information a dangerous tool in the hands of identity thieves.

As a result, smart computer users should take precautions when they throw away their PCs, just as they would with any credit card statements or other paperwork that contains sensitive card information. One way to erase credit card and other information from your hard drive is through the use of commercial software that acts as a digital file shredder by overwriting files and making them not recoverable.

Or, you can literally smash your hard drive. First, you can remove panels from your computer to get at the hard drive. Then, take off the top and use a hammer to destroy the hard drive.

Still, an old computer does not need to be thrown away. An older computer can function as a dedicated file server in a small office or home network, or can be a reliable backup should anything (virus, theft, damage, etc.) happen to your new PC. If you have wiped your computer clean with the type of software described above, you may want to sell the computer, or donate it to a charitable organization (earning yourself a tax deduction in the process). For those consumers looking to recycle a PC, take a look at the webpage of the National Recycling Coalition's Electronics Recycling Initiative:

Remember that while an old computer may simply be trash to you, it could be a potential goldmine for those looking to commit identity theft.

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