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Delete Yourself: A WTOL 11 Special Report

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(Toledo News Now) -

We constantly use our computers and smart phones. But when we sell, throw out, or recycle old ones, many of us think we know how to remove all the personal information that's stored on them. It turns out we're wrong.

"Countless times I hear customers come in and say, 'My whole life is on this', and that's true."

That's what an expert said at Direct Computer in Perrysburg, talking about computers and smart phones. More and more of our personal information is on our devices.

Is our information at risk when we trade in, sell, recycle, or throw them out?

As a test, we brought WTOL anchor Jenna Lee's broken computer to Direct Computer. Even though the computer wouldn't turn on, technician Dan Smith was able to quickly take out her hard drive and access some of her personal information.

As he scanned her hard drive, he was able to say, "her name is Jenna. She does have her bills on here. This is basically her history right here." He even found her personal e-mail account.

And all that information is easily found on your phones as well.

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The projected number of cell phone users in 2016 shows that the issue of taking care of your personal information will become more and more crucial to protect your information.

Think of it this way: Putting your stuff in the trash and emptying the trash is like throwing away the table of contents to a book, but all the chapters and information are still there. People don't just have to worry about their information staying on a broken computer. Many of us think we know how to wipe off our hard drives, but we're wrong.

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"They think that by deleting the information, and putting it in the recycling bin, and emptying the recycling bin, that the information is gone. But really it's not. It's still there," says Smith.

So how easy is it for someone with good computer skills and bad intentions to get ahold of some of your personal information?

"If you haven't properly destroyed the data it's extremely easy. I could probably have it within 10 to 15 minutes," explains Smith.

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So what can you do to make sure the chapters to your life are truly gone? With phones, the technician says it's actually simple.

"Take the SD card out of the device because that will hold all of your personal data. You'll ensure that none of your personal information will be given to the next person," suggests Smith. 

How to remove a SIM card from an iPhone

How to remove an SD card from an Android

With your computer hard drive, there are a couple options. You can:

Recycling computers and phones is another way people say goodbye to old technology. Roger Grieve works at AIM E-cycling, and says there are some recycling companies in our area that put your devices at risk.

"The people that think they're doing the right thing might actually harm themselves if they're not sending their materials to the right place. There are places right here in northwest Ohio where those controls are not maintained and that's unfortunate," says Grieve. 

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How do you know that a recycling company will protect your privacy? The company needs an R2 certification, which means it does make sure people's information isn't up for grabs. Grieve says that's not an easy certification to get, and took his company about a year to obtain, costing around $20,000.

The bottom line is it's important to make sure when you part with your devices, your personal information doesn't go with that technology.

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