Excited to finally upgrade your PC, you remind yourself to get rid of all the sensitive material your computer has held over the years. You go through all your files, dragging all your important information to the recycle bin. You think you’ve deleted everything with a quick click, and your old computer is discarded with its untouched hard drive still inside.

A few months later, you receive a call from a lender you’ve never heard of, attempting to collect a late payment on a loan you never applied for. If this has ever happened to you, you are one of the 9.9 million cases of identity theft that occur each year.

Why spend time wiping and destroying your hard drives? Because a simple emptying of the computer’s recycling bin just won’t do the trick. You can find information all over the computer’s hard drive, even after you thought you’d deleted every piece of valuable information.

Your old computer’s hard drive is a gold mine for a potential identity thief. If not disposed of correctly, your retrievable information could be used against you. A simple installation of password recovery software can hack into your discarded hard drive within minutes. The use of software capable of recovering items sent to the recycle bin will then retrieve your “discarded” items, even after the bin has been emptied. Only after several overwrites of the hard drive is the material considered fully deleted. But even then, it’s not always 100% effective.

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To prevent these breaches of both your data and your privacy, a general rule of thumb concerning data and media files is that nothing is ever really inaccessible until it is physically destroyed. Before physical destruction, it is recommended that you perform a multi-pass wipe on your hard drive. These wipes are available anywhere you can purchase software, both online and in store.

After completing the wipe of your hard drive, you need to remove the hard drive from the computer’s body. A quick search of the model number should reveal the hard drive’s location. After its removal, its destruction is up to you. The quickest and cheapest ways to destroy your hard drive and its contents would be to use everyday tools around your house. A hammer, a drill, or even fire are useful in fully destroying a hard drive. Just be sure to use caution, and be sure to verify that the hard drive’s contents are irretrievable. Everything should be fully smashed or melted before disposal.

If you prefer a quicker and easier method of destruction, multimedia shredders are available for purchase both online and in-store for those who need to dispose of hard drives, floppy discs, and other multimedia items frequently, or just prefer the machine’s simplicity. Most prices range from $700-$7000. If you’re not feeling confident about destroying the material yourself, a quick search online will provide you with several companies, government agencies, or even universities that specialize in the secure destruction of sensitive materials. Just be sure to wipe your hard drive before passing it on to anyone you don’t know or trust with your private information.

Because thorough safety is important in preventing identity theft, here are a few ways to keep your private information secure before the physical destruction of the hard drive.

  • Make sure your passwords are strong. Use of any details concerning you or your family, e.g. your child’s birthday, your name, or your anniversary, are a big no-no. The strongest passwords use a variety of numbers, both upper and lower case letters, and symbols or punctuation when allowed. Keep words and numbers non-specific to you, and do not auto-save passwords or store them in easy-to-access places. Remember to alter or change them occasionally.
  • Be very careful online. Always keep your computer fully updated, and never download files or software from unknown or unverified sites or popups. Be wary of phishing scams through your email, and never share personal information, including passwords or social security numbers, online.
  • Keep all your information secure. Do not store all your personal materials together in an unprotected place. Keep your wireless network secured by a unique password, and install spyware and firewalls to prevent any potential hacks.