SIOUX FALLS, SD -
You got a brand new laptop, now what do you do with that old desk top you don't need any more.
Many people try to sell their old systems. It seems like an easy way to unload something you don't need anymore and make a few bucks. But selling your old computer could end up costing you your identity.
If you're looking for a used computer, they're not hard to find. From Craigslist to garage sales there are plenty for sale.
"I talked to you yesterday about the computer you've got for sale; would it be okay if I came over to take a look at it in the next few minutes," Dan Meinke, professional computer investigator said.
Meinke says selling a used computer can pose a big problem. To show exactly what that problem is, Meinke agreed to help us buy a computer listed on a garage sale ad.
"So here's what we got, is a Dell, huh? You wanted $50 dollars for all of it? Sounds like a fair price for me," Meinke said.
But for $50 dollars Meinke says he was getting a lot more than the seller figures.
"She told me her son is pretty computer savvy guy and that he cleaned all their personal data off of it before they made it available for sale on garage sale. We'll see to what degree he was able to get that data completely off of there," Meinke said.
Meinke took the used computer back to his lab.
"This is the hard drive that stores all the data," Meinke said.
Meinke hooks the hard drive up to a device called a forensic duplicator, which will allow him to rebuild any data left on the hard drive itself.
"People tend to think that removing the programs or reinstalling the operating system or even reformatting the hard drive will get rid of all the personal data and it won't," Meinke said.
And in the case of this computer, it didn't. What Meinke was able to find on it will shock you.
"We've got financial information, we know who their CPA is, we have email correspondence, other documents and we've also got things like Cookies which show log-ins to different websites that are used," Meinke said.
And thousand of family pictures, from weddings to grandchildren.
"Is it really worth it? Knowing that someone has all your personal information, your banking information, tax information, friends lists, personal photographs; basically it's all there," Meinke said.
Now you may think, sure Meinke is a professional and no one else would be able to get their hands on this information. But Meinke says you'd be wrong.
"These files and pictures can easily be recovered by anybody. It wouldn't take much to figure out their social security numbers, we know who their accountant is; we know where they bank; we know what websites they access, just that information alone--think of what we could do with it," Meinke said.
Now we didn't want any of that personal information falling into the wrong hands so we went back to the home where we purchased the computer and decided to give the hard drive back to the computer's owner.
Judy Rae agreed to sit down with us and talk about what we found.
Angela: Pictures of you; wedding pictures.
Judy: Oh my gosh, of my kids.
Rae thought all of those things had been erased.
"My son came over and my husband and son went through, along with my daughter-in-law, downloaded a whole bunch of software that was supposed to take care of erasing everything on the hard drive and obviously it didn't, so we're all feeling a little stupid right now," Rae said.
Meinke says Rae is just like most people who don't how to really remove personal information from the hard drive.
Angela: Destroy the hard drive? How?
Dan: Physically take it out of the box and take a sledge hammer to it.
"Dan told me you can take this to someone and have it wiped, or you can destroy it with a sledgehammer, so I'm going to give you this back," Angela said.
"I think it will be destroyed with a sledge hammer, I'm pretty sure of that," Rae said.
Meinke says if you want to sell an old computer, just sell it without the hard drive.
"It's the same thing as taking a filing cabinet and selling a filing cabinet at a garage sale and not taking all the files out of it, before you sell it. Why would you do that? That's what you're doing when you put an old computer on a garage sale without removing everything from it," Meinke said.
“Well a lesson learned well. That's what we would say," Rae said.
Having your information get into the wrong hands isn't the only liability with an old computer. If you buy one off Craigslist or from a garage sale and it has something illegal on it, like child pornography, you could find yourself in the middle of a criminal investigation.
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