Before Tossing Your Old Electronic Device, Wipe It Clean of Personal Data

What’s nearly as inevitable as death and taxes? Electronic device upgrades. And one precaution that is critical before moving on from a phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer is wiping your data from the device.

Whether donating, selling, or simply passing a device to a family member or friend, a factory reset is the minimum level of personal I.D. security consumers should take to ensure sensitive data doesn’t end up in the wrong hands and put you or your family at risk.

Experts agree a factory reset is a valuable and relatively easy step that should be taken before getting rid of a device—simply deleting files often leads to potentially compromising oversights such as passwords saved in browsers and personal data in the deleted items folder.

It’s important to know that a factory reset—reverting your device to its pristine state when it left the factory (largely)—is not a 100 percent cleansing of personal data. Your information can still be mined from the computer’s hard drive by someone who is determined and knowledgeable. However, after a factory reset, any new data added to storage will overwrite the old data. Eventually, if you use all of the storage, all of your old data will be permanently replaced.

Most importantly before a factory reset, know that all of your data will be erased and must first be transferred to a new device or backed up on an external drive or in the cloud. This includes contacts, photos, videos, and documents.

If you’re worried about extremely sensitive information surviving a factory reset (if you’re selling a computer once used for business, for instance), there are various programs designed to wipe away the memory completely or you may consider hiring an expert to do it.

The state Bureau of Household Goods and Services (BHGS) licenses electronics repair service dealers. To be sure a repair dealer’s license is in good standing, visit the BHGS website and click on “License Search” under the Consumers tab.

For specific step-by-step instructions for a successful purge, search online for “factory reset” and your specific model of phone, tablet, or computer, and the operating system it uses.

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