Identity Trashed: Could you be throwing out your identity with your old computer?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Most Americans swap out their computers every few years.  We delete everything off the hard drive, then throw them out, donate, or re-sell them.

But is your computer safe to toss? You may leaving yourself open to identity thieves, and not even know it.

It’s advice all of us can use. Think before you toss.

Shane Patterson and his wife thought their two hard drives had been wiped clean of any personal information before they sold them to us at a yard sale in Trussville for six dollars.

Yet, that wasn’t the case. We handed the hard drives to WIAT engineer Adam Truax. It only took him a few minutes to retrieve many of the Patterson’s deleted files.

Truax said, “I have full access to all the data that was once on there.”

Just because the Pattersons tried to erase their information, that doesn’t mean it’s gone for good.

Anyone can use online programs to recover files that were deleted from hard drives.

“That’s what surprises me,” Patterson said. “That it was done so easily especially if you can pull something off the internet and have it done that’s even worse.”

Truax showed us how easy it is to recover someone’s information, even though they’ve clicked “delete.”

He added, “Just a matter of minutes. So far, we’ve found some fire insurance quotes home addresses, high school kids’ pictures, partial license plates, browser histories.”

Shane Patterson admits he was surprised when we showed up at his house to tell him the information on his hard drive could have been exposed. He thought he had done everything possible to erase his hard drive.

“That’s what i didn’t know. Because when I delete a hard drive, I normally use the most secure settings that’s on the computer.  So, obviously, that needs to be, needs to be done a little better than that.”

And here’s why. Truax said, “Identity thieves eat this stuff up, they love it.”

Those identity thieves are searching for your personal information, and Truax said, it’s very easy to find.

“You know a lot of intimate details about that person, and you just picked up the hard drive out of the garbage.

A lot of personal information that you can use the develop a pattern. You can find out about the person, what sport they were interested in.”

I asked Shane Patterson “So, now in the future, how do you think you’ll handle this situation?

He said, “I probably am just going to destroy them. Okay, it’s just not worth it.”

Computer experts say, destroying the hard drive is the best way to keep your personal or business information safe. They recommend a number of methods to make sure the platters inside the hard drive aren’t readable. They include smashing the hard drive with a hammer and drilling multiple holes in it.

Copyright 2014 WIAT 42 News

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