Destroy Data before Replacing Your PC

Are you thinking about getting rid of your old computer, donating it or selling it? If you are, you should know that used computers are an easy target for identity theft. It's very important that you understand the necessary steps for protecting yourself and your identity.

Whenever you sell your PC or give it away, you should always erase all of your personal and confidential information. But it's not that simple. The following options will help protect your personal information and shut the door on any potential identity theft risk. You can choose the one that’s right for your situation.

Option 1. You can remove the hard drive or drives. This step, while quick and easy to do, is also very drastic. If you choose this option, then you still have the data-packed drive left. Besides, opening up your PC has risks. You can easily damage other parts as well as yourself.

If you do choose this route, you can still erase the drive later on by connecting it to another computer with a special USB cable.

Option 2. Erase part or all of the drive and leave it in your PC. This sounds relatively easy, but there's a catch (actually two).

  • If you erase the drive, by reformatting it or deleting folders individually along with files, this doesn't actually delete the data. This will only remove file names from the drive's master index. The files themselves can still be read easily using any file recovery software.
  • You can't reformat your main hard drive (it's usually located in the "C" drive on a PC) while it's in use helping to run your computer.

You will probably need special software that will completely destroy all files, overwriting with zeroes several times.

Mac users should use the built-in Disk Utility. Perform a secure erase of all free drive space.

If you're erasing your main drive you'll need to boot (launch) your computer from a specially prepared CD, since you'll be wiping out your operating system (e.g., Windows).

Option 3. Erase only the data and personal information. If you do this, you will leave your operating system and other programs intact for the next user.

Experts recommend using a dedicated file deletion program to completely destroy your personal data (after you copy or back it up for your new machine) folder by folder.

Many programs you might leave in your old PC (especially Internet browsers) can retain personal information, like passwords or details of sites you visited. You should be able either to uninstall these separately or delete personal information from them.

Last step: removing other media. Make sure that you DO NOT leave a disk in the computer's CD/DVD drive. Also be sure to remove a Compact Flash or Secure Digital card or memory stick in the reader, as well as a floppy or Zip disk.

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