Ditching Your Old Phone? Don't Forget Your Sensitive Data!

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So, random question: What might someone find out about you by taking a peek at your mobile phone? If you think it's just your embarrassing texts or selfie wallpaper, think again.

We store our LIVES on our mobile devices:

  • Calendars reveal medical appointments, scheduled vacations, important (and maybe confidential) meetings, gym visits and basically a stalker's or thief's guidebook to where you will be at any given time -- or when you won't be at home.
  • Photos and videos provide a full-color visual representation of your family, home, pets, prized possessions, favorite haunts...and perhaps some embarrassing or unflattering images as well.
  • Text messages, voicemail and emails are chock-full of personal and business information. Just think about how much of your day-to-day communication is conducted through these channels; even banking can be done via text.
  • Search histories can tell a lot about a person. We Google everything from suspected medical conditions to philosophical questions. ("The Google" knows all!)

So what happens to this information when you get rid of your mobile phone?

This information--your "LIFE"--stays in your phone!

Most of us aren't still using the first mobile phone we ever owned (time to show my age: my first mobile phone was in a bag and was connected by a wire to a big magnetic antenna on my car's back window!). At some point (thank goodness) we have upgraded to a newer, faster, smaller or larger (or bagless) model. In fact, in 2016 alone nearly 1.5 billion people bought new smartphones, compared to 122 million in 2007.

Learn more about keeping your current mobile device safe from cyberthieves.

We dispose of our phones by trading them in, donating them, reselling them, handing them down to our less-fortunate younger siblings or maybe even tossing them in the trash.

Sometimes we're in such a hurry to start posting pics, streaming tunes and texting emojis on our super-cool new phone that we pay no attention to the information we've left on our old one. And that's not at all super-cool.

Transferring is not the same as erasing and nothing is ever "deleted."

Common practice when switching to a new device is to transfer all the information we've stored on our old phone over to our new one (who wants to re-install apps or try to remember all of our contacts?). When we do this, we're actually just COPYING data from one phone to another. The original information stays on the old device until it's erased, making your personal information vulnerable to cyberthieves.

And forget about simply deleting your information. An 8-year-old can find free tools online to retrieve "deleted" data from your old phone.

It's well worth your time to remove sensitive information from your device before you part with it forever. Our cyber-savvy friends at the Federal Trade Commission have a few recommendations for ensuring your phone is free of personal data and completely unappealing to fraudsters:

1. "Wipe" your device with a factory reset

Unlike deleting data, performing a factory reset, or "wiping" the data from the device, will overwrite the information, making it truly unrecoverable (even by that 8-year-old). To perform a factory reset, refer to your phone's owner's manual or manufacturer's website, or try these steps:

  • Apple iOS devices: Go to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings
  • Android devices: Go to Settings > Privacy > Factory Data Reset

2. Remove or erase SIM or SD cards

SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards and SD (Secure Digital) cards are used for internal or external storage on many devices to supplement the phone's internal memory. Even wiping a device may leave data on SIM and SD cards intact. Be sure to remove these cards from your device before handing it over. If you can't use the card in your new phone or in another device, you should physically destroy it.

3. Double check for data

It's never a bad idea to verify that no data has been left on your phone, so open your contacts, call logs, search engines, photos, etc. one last time...just in case.

If you're worried about your Mobile Banking app information being exposed when you ditch your old phone, following the steps above should eliminate that possibility.  However, for an extra layer of protection, enable additional safeguards like strong passwords, thumbprint identification and text alerts for suspicious or unusual transactions.


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