The Gift that Keeps on Giving?

By Diane Tait

Image courtesy flickr
One of the biggest items on most American’s shopping list this year was technology.  Whether Santa’s list included a new laptop, tablet or cellphone, the arrival of the latest model leaves most people wondering what to do with the old one.  While selling, donating or regifting secondhand tech sounds like a good idea in principle, I’m here to tell you that if you aren’t careful, you could wind up giving away more than you had hoped.  That’s because computers and smartphones contain sensitive and valuable information on them that can be used to cause you grief.  Before you wind up getting Grinched by savvy cyber-criminals, there are a few things you need to do before you pass on any technology.

What, me worry? – In this wired world, nearly everything is computerized nowadays.  That means your technology not only allows you to contact people, shop, trade and bank online, but it contains a record of all your transactions, locations and contacts.  When a piece of technology changes hands, those records are still present on the device’s internal memory, even if you delete them.  There are numerous programs and apps available today that can recover all but the most skillfully purged files from most devices.  If you don’t want your previous activity to come back to haunt you, you need to make sure every purchase, email, text message and transaction is thoroughly scrubbed from any device you pass along.

Image courtesy flickr
Backup to the Future – Before you start eliminating every last trace of your online activities, it’s probably a good idea to backup all the data on the device.  You can do this by either transferring everything onto your latest device, or you can backup the data to an external hard drive.  I recommend against backing up data on the cloud, since this runs the risk of being hacked.  The only truly hack-proof way to backup data is to physically isolate it.  That means once you create a copy of your data on an external hard drive, you need to disconnect it from the device to make sure that it is completely safe.    

The right way and the wrong way to delete data. – Once you have made and verified a backup of your data, now it’s time to delete the data on the old device, right?  That depends.  It depends on what you mean by delete.  Just because you delete files on your device, that doesn’t mean that they have been completely erased.  Not by a long shot.  Moving files to the recycle bin doesn’t eliminate them from memory.  It just makes them harder to retrieve.  Software like Recuva can be used to retrieve data from a device even after it has been deleted.  Since this data can contain personal and financial information that you’d rather not have revealed, this can pose a problem. That’s the bad news.  The good news is that there’s software available to thoroughly scrub every last trace of data from your devices.  Sporting such monikers as DataShredder, KillDrive and Boot & Nuke, these programs not only delete data, they overwrite the drive with massive doses of binary code that renders all data unreadable.  If you’re interested in learning about some of the latest deleteware, here’s a link to a December 2019 blog from  

What’s another option to the DIY approach? – While some technology users are savvy enough to go the do-it-yourself route, other people would prefer to hire the job out.  No problem.  Any IT professional can help you steam clean tech devices.  Or you can turn to companies that specialize in erasing every last digital footprint on hard drives and backup drives even to the point of degaussing sensitive data storage devices.  The reason I mention them is mostly for business owners who leave a larger digital footprint and have many more devices than consumers.   Plus, the best data destruction companies will not only completely eliminate data from your devices, they will certify the destruction and back it up with a warranty that leaves you off the hook should any data be compromised.

Image courtesy needpix
What could happen if you don’t completely erase your data? – Other than taking a sledgehammer or a blowtorch to a hard drive, deleting data isn’t all that easy.  Since many of the devices we use everyday contain banking information, credit card information, social security numbers, phone numbers and email addresses, having this data compromised could be catastrophic to everyone you know.  That’s right, once the digital genie is out of the bottle, not only could you be exposed to such things as financial fraud and identity theft, so could many of your friends, coworkers, customers and family. 

What could a cyber-thief do with your data? – Here are just a few ways in which cyber-criminals can turn a tidy profit from data gleaned from your device”

      1.      They can use your information to make fraudulent credit card purchases, rifle your bank accounts and/or apply for loans and credit cards in your name.
      2.      They can sell your financial data online.
      3.      Create bogus social sites with your name that can be used to solicit donations.
      4.      Tarnish your by trolling your good name online.
      5.      Phish or Smish all your friends, family and business contacts.
      6.      Use the information to hack into your computer, social sites and/or financial sites frequented by you.

Why is complete data destruction crucial? – It should come as no surprise that your data doesn’t just affect you.  Any personal or financial data that you collect on others can put you in a perilous position should the data be compromised.  If this should happen, not only will your friends, family, business associates and customers be peeved, they could ultimately take you to court to recover losses caused by your negligence.  This is also a reason why many savvy business owners invest in cyber security insurance to protect them in the case of a data breach. If you don’t want to wind up giving the gift that keeps on giving, make sure you eliminate every last trace of personal and financial data from any device you sell, donate or regift.

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.


  1. A friend of mine had a hacker clone his Facebook site, then begin soliciting bogus donations from all his friends online.

  2. What a great article. Most users of tech want to donate their old tech, but really don't know about the dangers of un-erased data on their device. Those who read this article are forewarned and armed for defense.


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