Trash or treasure?

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Maybe your IT staff has sold you on the benefits of new computers.  Or perhaps you plan to replace the clunker in the rumpus room in anticipation of the upcoming school year — and it includes your “homework” from the office or personal data like financial information or family Social Security numbers.

Of course, you’ll do your research before investing in a new system.  But have you thought about how to securely dispose of your old computer?  Before you log off for the last time, make sure your tech trash doesn’t become a fraudster’s treasure. — the federal government’s website to help you be safe, secure and responsible online — has steps to take so that sensitive info on your old computer at the office or at home doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Wipe it so they can’t swipe it.  Just deleting files isn’t enough. The data’s still there for scammers to exploit. Instead, use “wipe” programs. T here is inexpensive — and even free — software available that will really get rid of data on the hard drive.  The most effective ones overwrite the hard drive over and over, making it more difficult for ID thieves to recover anything of value.  Another option if you’re comfortable tinkering with hardware: Remove the drive and physically destroy it.

The letter of the law.  Every business should be concerned about securely getting rid of sensitive information it no longer has a legitimate need to keep.  But data covered by the FTC’s Disposal Rule ups the ante on your legal obligations.  Check out Disposing of Consumer Report Information? New Rule Tells How for compliance advice.  Not covered by the Rule?  It’s still worth a read to see how your policies measure up.

Make it clean and keep it green.   Once sensitive data is removed, how do you get rid of your computer?  Many manufacturers have programs to recycle computers and components. Check their websites or call their toll-free numbers for more information.  Another option: Donate your computer to a group that distributes them to charities. But whatever you decide, keep the environment in mind.  Computer equipment may contain hazardous materials that don’t belong in a landfill. Check with your local health or environmental agency for ways to dispose of electronics safely.

What’s good for the goose.  Concerns about secure disposal of computers also apply to smart phones, cell phones, flash drives, copiers, external drives, and other equipment.  These days, read “computer” to include all those devices you rely on.

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