March is Fraud Prevention Month in Alberta. Data protection and identify fraud prevention is a serious issue in the digital age. Data stored on old computers, laptops, cell phones, usb sticks, ipods and ipads can be accessed and misused if in the wrong hands. In an effort to inform people about the importance of protecting privacy and taking responsibility for the traces of information we leave behind through our emails, online activities, etc. – our digital footprints – the Alberta Community Crime Prevention Association (ACCPA) is advising Albertans to ensure they properly dispose of all electronics that may contain sensitive information. In order to do so, CREB®Now offers the following tips:
1. Clean it. In the same way it’s important to protect the information on your computer while it’s in use, it’s important to not leave any valuable information on it when it’s no longer needed. Simply deleting files, folders, programs and applications won’t quite do the trick. Even a reformatted hard drive can be restored by those with right know-how.
When you delete a file, the links between the index and the file disappear, signaling to your system that the file isn’t needed any longer and that hard drive space can be overwritten. But the bits and pieces of the deleted file stay on your computer until they’re overwritten, and they can be retrieved with a data recovery program. To remove data from your hard drive permanently, it needs to be wiped clean.
After backing up any documents or information you wish to retain, Microsoft recommends wiping your hard drive by using specialized software that is designed to government standards and willoverwrite
your information. If your old computer contains sensitive information valuable to an identity thief, consider using a program that overwrites or wipes the hard drive several times.
When replacing your old Smartphone with the inevitable new model, any SIM cards or other storage devices should first be removed. Then clear the phone by accessing the reset or clear button under the settings menu.
2. Break it. In the same way TV secret agents ensured their messages didn’t fall into the wrong hands by having them self destruct, you can ensure that no one is able to recover the data by disposing of the device – destructively. Once you’ve properly cleared your phone or computer of any sensitive information, and in the event you don’t plan to resell or donate it, you can – in the case of a Smartphone, either choose to destruct the device yourself— or take it to one of the city’s electronics recycling centres. Able to accept TVs of all sizes, laptops, notebooks and tablets, desktop computers and computer monitors (some restrictions apply), taking your unwanted electronics to a free recycling centre ensures the potentially harmful chemicals and heavy metals are properly disposed of. To find your nearest recycling centre or for more information on electronics recycling visit the Alberta Recycling Management Authority website at www.albertarecycling.ca.
3. Donate it. Rather than simply tossing those old unwanted electronics in the trash, there are several ways to give them a new life in the hands of another user. The Electronic Recycling Association (ERA) is a not-for profit organization working with the public and private sector helping companies and the public deal with unwanted electronic items. ERA collects old computers for donation at no charge to local schools, charities, non profit groups, libraries, elderly homes, and other community based organizations. For more information visit www.era.ca.