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Protect Your Data When Selling and Recycling Used Mobile Phones and Tablets

We all have a drawer, basement or shelf housing our dusty cell phones and other electronics that haven't been touched in years. Recycling or selling this equipment for reuse is best for the environment and your wallet; however, these devices often contain an abundance of confidential information including passwords, contacts and correspondence, even after factory resets are performed. With identity theft and cyber crime increasingly becoming more prevalent, it is imperative businesses and individuals take the proper precautions to safeguard their data when selling and recycling these devices.
A study conducted by CPP Life Assistance found that 54% of second-hand mobile phones they had purchased from e-Bay and used electronics shops still contained personal data. They were able to access personal information such as texts, passwords, emails and banking details on 19 of the 35 mobile phones. They also purchased 50 SIM cards in which 27 were found to contain similar information.
CPP Life Assistance went a step further and asked the original mobile phone owners if they had deleted their personal data prior to selling or recycling; 81% claimed to have wiped their phones before selling them and 60% were confident that all of their personal information had been removed.
A comparable study done by Robert Siciliano, an identity theft expert and researcher for McAfee, found similar results. He bought 30 used cell phones, PDAs, computers and tablets from college students in the Boston area. All the owners thought they had wiped the memory clean, but in many cases, their sensitive data remained on the devices. Siciliano was able to recover family photos, tax files, social security numbers and bank account information.
So how can your protect your data when selling your used mobile phones and tablets?
Used mobile devices still retain a significant resale dollar value even after 18 to 36 months of use. And while there is no shortage of online and retail businesses that offer to purchase used mobile phones, businesses and consumers need to be very carful when selecting a buyback and recycling partner. Even large wireless carriers and electronics retailers may be using third party buyback vendors that claim "complete data deletion," however their terms and conditions state that it is the sole responsibility of the seller to delete the confidential information. Additionally, should you turn in a device that no longer works properly, many electronics recyclers sell these devices to third party companies for a profit with the data still accessible should the device be brought back to working condition.
So what are businesses and consumers to do to safeguard their data when selling and recycling wireless devices? Many will advise performing a factory reset to remove private data from wireless devices, but as the studies above have shown, it is almost always not 100 percent effective. Most wireless devices still have sensitive information on them even after restoring the factory settings, including phone numbers, email addresses and pin codes. Savvy technologists have even been able to recover photographs, home addresses and private contact information.

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