How to Protect Your Private Information When Selling an Old Smartphone

Just because a device has been wiped clean, doesn’t mean all the private information once stored there is gone for good

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    Smartphone users who opt to sell their old phones may also be handing over their personal information.

    An iPhone 4 can net anywhere from $125 to $210 in cash or credit from companies like Amazon, USell or ecoATM. Those companies will buy your phone and wipe the device clean before selling it overseas.

    However, just because a device has been wiped clean, doesn’t mean all the private information once stored there is gone for good.

    NBC 7 recently purchased several Android-based phones from ads posted on Craigslist and found the former owner’s personal information was easily accessible in just minutes.

    Cell Phone Privacy

    [DGO] Cell Phone Privacy
    You can go online and find thousands of used phones for sale right now. But when you sell your phone, are you also selling your personal information? NBC 7's ConsumerBob reports. (Published Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013)

    Smartphones are like mini-computers and carry with them almost every detail about a person’s life from family photos or intimate texts to passwords and bank records.

    At NBC 7’s request, Jeff Debrosse, the Director of Security Research with Websense Security, took a collection of used smartphones and examined what information he could find stored inside.

    “If nothing was done with that phone, a lot of that information might be recoverable,” Debrosse said.

    The Android-based phones were purchased from individual sellers on Craigslist. Even though every phone had been wiped clean before it was sold, it didn't take long for Debrosse to hit the jackpot.

    “From when I connected the phone, in about two minutes I had images and correspondence,” said Debrosse.

    Using free data recovery software found online, Debrosse was able to find thousands of private files including Twitter conversations, emails and personal photos still hidden on the phone's hard drive.

    To avoid this, smartphone owners can either take a hammer and physically destroy the phone or bury the data so deep it will never be found.

    “You can actually write a lot of information to it and when you’re done, just go ahead and wipe it and fill that storage area with music or with videos not of yourself but with information and files. Then wipe it again,” Debrosse advises. “What someone is going to recover is actually going to be stuff you don’t really care about.”

    The personal information is replaced by impersonal information creating a buffer zone most people will never be able to crack.


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