Discarded cellphones may expose previous owners to identify theft

Cellphones are our everything. A diary, email, text messaging, checkbook, and the list goes on.

But when it is time to get rid of them, are you deleting all that information properly?

WINK News decided to check. We purchased 26 cellphones online, then took them to a data recovery company CPR Tools in Fort Myers.

“We’ll be looking for whatever data we can pull from them,” said Ray Leventhal of CPR Tools.

That includes personal information like name, phone number and date of birth.

“They’re handheld computers that happen to make phone calls,” Leventhal said. “They’re not just phones. These are all individual recovery work stations.”

And since our phones are mini computers, those discarding them need to treat the devices like that.

From the 26 phones CPR Tools worked with, 10 were adequately wiped clean of information. Eight required technology inaccessible to a normal person and another eight had personally identifiable information.

But on those eight phones were contacts, email addresses, photos, videos, locations of meetings, payment confirmations with account numbers and private text messages.

WINK News contacted the former owners of cellphones with personal data still saved on the devices to.

One person, who expressed shock, said there is no way WINK News could have their phone. But after reading the contacts, the person realized it was true.

How do I protect my data when I replace my phone?

To protect your data on phones planning to be discarded, several steps can be taken.

Most new phones have a factory-reset feature. CPR Tools said that should be sufficient.

If a device is a little older, an effective method is to go through and manually delete everything.

Also, consider removing SIM cards, which is the small chip that stores information on cellphones.

As for tablets, the device should have a factory-reset option similar to cellphones. However, computers may need to be cleared professionally.

Ask for a National Institute of Standards and Technology certificate of compliance. Special care is especially critical if the device holds other people’s personal information.

If still unsure a device is cleaned, Leventhal provides a practical solution.

“Protect your data first,” Leventhal said. “If you’re not sure how to do it, don’t donate the phone.

Reporter:Allison Gormly
Writer:Michael Mora
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