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ID Theft Watch: Old Cell Phones Contain Key Private Data

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Thinking about selling your second hand mobile phone, or donating it to charity? If you’ve just purchased the latest iPhone or Android, you might want to take a few extra precautions before getting rid of your old phone so that you don’t leave yourself open to identity theft.  A New U.K. study has the facts, saying that people are unsuspectingly giving their personal information to complete strangers via second hand mobile phones.

The British identity theft protection firm CPP has the goods. It took a good, long look at used mobile phones purchased by consumers on eBay and concluded that over half of the devices (54%) contained extensive personal data.

[Resource: 12 Tips for Protecting Your Identity]

The CPP report lists 247 pieces of personal data that cell phone owners have left exposed after selling their devices on the secondary market. Here’s what topped the list:

  • Credit and debit card PIN numbers
  • Bank account information
  • User account passwords
  • Phone numbers
  • Employer data
  • Log in information to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook

Of particular interest is how consumers reacted to the data from CPP. The company reported that 81% of respondents claimed to have deleted and cleared their phones before putting them on the market. So, what gives? According to security experts at CCP, a manual erase often still leaves data intact and retrievable.

Unfortunately, it’s up to users to make sure their cell phones are wiped clean before personally reselling them.

“This report is a shocking wake up call and shows how mobile phones can inadvertently cause people to be careless with their personal data,” says Danny Harrison, a mobile data specialist with CPP. “With the rapid technology advancements in the smart phone market and new models released by manufactures multiple times a year, consumers are upgrading their mobiles more than ever and it is imperative people take personal responsibility to properly manage their own data.”

“If they do sell or recycle them online or even give them to friends and family, they need to ensure they remove all their personal information thoroughly and consider the serious consequences of not doing so,” he adds.

[Identity Theft: Free Identity Risk Score and profile from Credit.com]

So, how do you safely and thoroughly clear your phone before selling it? CPP advises destroying the phone’s SIM card and rechecking the phone to see that it’s clean before parting with it.

Here are a few tips from the firm on how to erase all the data on your cell phone before parting with it:

  • Restore all factory settings. This is the first step that you should take as it is the easiest precaution before disposing of the unit. Keep in mind that just because you restore to factory settings, you’re not in the clear just yet.
  • Remove your SIM card and destroy it.
  • Delete back-ups. Even if your smart phone, PDA or laptop data is securely removed from the mobile device, it can continue to exist on a back up somewhere else.
  • Log out and delete. Make sure you have logged out of all social networking sites, emails, wireless connections, company networks and applications. Once you are logged out, make sure you delete the password and connection.

Image by waywuwei, via Flickr

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