If you got some really cool, brand new gadgets this holiday, you’re probably too excited to think about the old stuff that they replaced. For many reasons, proper electronic waste disposal is essential, and the chief concern for many is the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 112,000 computers are discarded each day and 20 million TVs each year in the U.S, and only 13 percent of them are properly recycled or disposed of.
When it comes to disposing these old electronics, proper recycling and safety are key for an even more immediate reason. These devices can provide information to thieves and criminals to steal your identity and damage your credit. Whether you’re planning on selling your device or throwing it away, the careless disposal of an old computer or phone could be handing over details stored on them like passwords, account numbers, addresses and phone numbers as well as anything else you might have kept on them.
“People use their credit cards to purchase things,” said Jim Overly, the manager of Cyber Works in Wisconsin, in an interview with WBay.com. “That information can be stored on a computer. All the log-ins to your Facebook accounts, different accounts that you might log in for your medical accounts, that’s on your computer.”
According to Overly, recycling used electronics is the safest way to dispose of them. Recycling services like Cyber Works get rid of old data and destroy the hard drive on the devices they receive. Some states, like Wisconsin, mandate the recycling of old electronics, but typically for environmental purposes. Materials like lead and mercury that are often found in electronics can be hazardous to human health and the environment, according The Department of Natural Resources.
If you feel more comfortable putting this task in your own hands, the Federal Trade Commission recommends using a program that overwrites or wipes away information on your hard drive. Just erasing the information isn’t enough, as thieves can use data recovery to bring back all the information you deleted. You can also physically remove and destroy the hard drive.
Before you completely destroy your computer’s hard drive, though, be sure to remove any important information from it for your own storage. You can use a USB drive, CD, external hard drive or simply transfer the files over to a new device. For smart phones and tablets, the easiest way to securely remove information from them is by encrypting the device then doing a factory reset. As is the case with computers, you should back up any necessary data on another device before wiping it all.
If you’re concerned about your vulnerability to identity theft, you can invest in a credit monitoring service that can alert you to certain activity that may indicate fraud. This way, you can be prompted to take action, like obtaining a credit freeze, and have an invaluable peace of mind.