Erase data from old computers

December 1, 2003
By Tracy Davidson

Your old computer hard drive contains all kinds of sensitive personal information that could be used against you, if it falls into the wrong hands.

That's why before you sell or donate your old computer, you need to erase your hard drive. "There's a real problem with identity theft right now," says Bob Jackson of Erase Your Hard Drive dot com.

Anything you saved can be retrieved unless it's permanently deleted. And putting files into the recycle bin doesn't mean they're gone forever. "A stylus actually etches bits of data into this plate," says Jackson. "Once that data is etched in there, it doesn't go away until it is physically overwritten. All that does is just earmark those particular files as something that is available to overwrite at some later date if the space is available."

That means if you saved credit card numbers or did your taxes online, the next person who buys your computer may be able to retrieve that information! A new program available on the Internet now lets you erase your computer's hard drive to the standards set by the Department of Defense.

Jackson says most consumers have no idea what a hard drive can contain. "One had a cached file of some 3,000 credit cards, another actually came out of an ATM machine and had a year's worth of banking data. There's a tremendous amount of information stored on a hard drive that people don't even recognize is there."

A few things to know: the program only works with PC's that are Windows based. You need to have an Intel processor, and you must have Internet connection.  The cost is $24.00.

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