If you're buying a new computer and plan to discard or donate your old one, consider this: As many as 150 million computers are trashed each year, often without having their hard drives erased. You might as well do the identity thief's job for him. Scammers routinely retrieve old machines from curbside trash or buy them for less than $50 at thrift stores, salvage yards or auctions. In one experiment, MIT students retrieved sensitive information from up to half of the discarded computers they tested.
How to Protect Yourself
Deleted files are easily retrievable by anyone with a larcenous streak and a modicum of tech savvy. To wipe your hard drive clean for good, purchase special hard drive shredding software from a computer supply store. Better yet, physically remove—or have a techie friend do it for you—the hard drive from inside the machine, then use a hammer to destroy it. Or, if you prefer, simply contact a local shredding agency and have them shred the hard drive for you.