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December 19, 2013 09:55 PM

'Sanitizing' Game Console Hard Drives Prevents Identity Theft

Madison, SD

Many families in KELOLAND will find a brand new game console under their Christmas tree this year.

Both XBOX and PlayStation have launched new systems, but before you toss out or sell your old console, there's personal information you'll want to remove. 

As a recent graduate of Dakota State University, Mason Helphrey enjoys playing video games for a few hours a week when he's not busy.

"They're all kind of designed to make you connected to your friends," Helphrey said. "I've got friends all over the world that I can play with every night in my living room almost like they're there right next to me," Helphrey said.

Gaming consoles are rarely at the end of their life when consumers upgrade to the newest model.

"You can go on eBay and sell it. There are special websites designed to buy old electronics," Helphrey said.

But there is real danger in handing over an old console, according to Digital Forensic Investigator Ashley Podhradsky. 

"You have credit card information, you have personal identifying information that someone could potentially use to steal your identity," Podhradsky said. "When you want to trade in your old gaming console to get the newest version, you don't want to be giving someone that information."

Video game consoles have grown from single-player systems with rudimentary processing and graphics to devices providing gamers with email, video chat, pictures and the ability to surf the web.

"I don't think people understand that these are a computer; they see them as an entertainment device. And so because they have that association, they fail to recognize all of the confidential data that they have on the device," Podhradsky said.

For the last five years, Podhradsky's researched information left on game consoles, by buying them online and at second hand stores. Rarely is the personal information removed.

"We have been able to pull off confidential information that could lead to someone's identity being stolen," Podhradsky said.

To protect yourself, Podhradsky says it's critical to remove personal information from hard drive. Depending on the device, that can happen on top or in back of the gaming console.

An external hard drive reader can be purchased for about $20 at an electronic store and connects the gaming console's hard drive to a computer. Once connected, a free website like 'Eraser' can sanitize the personal information.

The sanitation can take up to an hour. It may seem intimidating, but Podhradsky says it's the only way to protect yourself from identity theft after ditching your game console.

And it's advice that's sticking with Mason Helphrey.

"Now I know there is some really important data on this drive that I don't want other people knowing about, personal stuff," Helphrey said. "I know now to sanitize my stuff before I sell it to anybody."

Instead of using a credit card to purchase items through an XBOX, experts recommend a prepaid card to prevent inputting your credit card number onto the game console's hard drive.

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