Your computer begins to make funny noises and starts freezing up. You have secretly feared the old workhorse might finally give up. You have had this unit for eight years and there are eight years of banking, stock trading, and personal stuff including a boatload of family photos. When, as every computer eventually will, your old device greets you with the blue screen of doom, you grumble your way to the nearest electronics store to get a new one. You are going to throw the old one away – leave it on the curb for the trash man. As frustrating as the loss of old records is, the computer is not worth repairing. It is useless now. Right?
Perhaps to you, however not to the growing network of identity thieves around the world. To them, your old computer represents Christmas all over again. There is enough personal data still living in your hard drive to make it easy for the bad guys to buy cars, take exotic vacations, and get that flat screen for the bad guy break-room, all at your expense. (They will be right along to pick up that old computer for you.)
Here is how it works. Damaged or old computers find their ways into countless dump trucks, landfills and thrift stores. Some dude sees an ad in the local newspaper: “We buy used computers.” Because he can use a few extra bucks, he makes a mission of finding and delivering all the curbside and thrift store computers he can find. He gets his money and your old hard-drive is shipped to a warehouse where it is dismantled and the data left therein is mined and sold to criminal types around the world.
Identity theft is the most costly crime against individuals in the US today completely eclipsing crimes like burglary and auto theft. Identity theft cost Americans about $21 billion dollars in 2012 with over 12.6 million victims bearing the financial burdens associated with the crimes. You will be lucky if your personal information gets only into the hands of somebody who wants to borrow your credit card. It might just as easily become the property of professional criminals, who will use your data to open new accounts, empty your savings accounts and tap into your certificates of deposit. This kind of nightmare can go on for years.
You must be mindful of the fact that even if your personal data is not accessible to you, others who have the training, can tap into it quickly. You may think, because the unit is old and broken, it is without value and certainly not worth even a few dollars in new parts. Yes. Computer repairs can be expensive. You do not have to fix the old computer, but you will be ahead of the game if you at least have that old hard drive erased or destroyed before you hand it over. You probably do not have the knowledge or equipment to do this yourself. Do yourself a big favor. Find a secure, reliable professional data recovery service to ensure that your hard drive will be useless to cyber crooks.