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Trashing Your Computer Is More Than Tossing It

Why Should You Care?

When you have a computer no longer serving your needs or ready for retirement, can't you just throw it out with the trash? Definitely not! There are environmental and security issues to consider. Computers contain heavy metals which pose environmental hazards when disposed of improperly. Likewise, you also should not sell your computer on eBay, on Craigslist, at a flea market, or donate it to charity without taking some basic precautions.

Your computer contains personal and private information you would not want to fall into the wrong hands. Important information is contained not only in the files on your computer, but also in the registration keys of installed programs, and cached credit card numbers and login information retained in your web browser. It is imperative to be mindful of security risks when disposing of an old computer.

What Should You Do First?

The first course of action is to copy all the data from your old computer onto a USB drive, DVD, CD, or external hard drive. Copy everything, as it is better to have too much data than to wish you had copied something you will no longer have access to later. Old files can then be transferred to a new computer as needed.

How can you protect yourself?

It is important to be aware that simply deleting old files and emptying the recycle bin does not keep someone from gaining access to personal information. Although you may not be able to see the files, they still reside on your hard drive, and the information can easily be accessed.

The most common way to ensure your old computer really is clean is to erase or "wipe" the hard drive with a software program specifically designed to destroy all the information resident on the drive. Perform an online search for secure file or disk deletion tools, hard drive erasure utilities, secure erase applications, or programs that ensure the blocking you need. Many of these options are free, but some may have a nominal cost.

Options You Should Consider For Disposal

There are things you can do easily to avoid merely throwing your wiped computer away, such as reselling it, recycling it, donating it, or giving it away:

  • Resell - Craigslist or eBay are good online options for reselling a computer. If the computer is very old, potential customers might consider it "vintage" and be willing to pay a good price. You can also search for organizations or individuals looking to buy old computers.
  • Recycle - Search for local for-profit and nonprofit recycling companies that will pick up the computer and dispose of it properly for you. If you are buying a new computer, the company you purchase from will often recycle the computer for free. You may also check with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for more information on computer recycling at http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/index.htm .
  • Donate - Look for local associations accepting donations for schools, nonprofit organizations, or individuals with disabilities. Otherwise, check with those businesses directly regarding donations.
  • Give it away - Give it to your parents or grandparents and teach them how to use e-mail and navigate the web. Older computers are great for these basic tasks, and it will empower and provide confidence for those not as familiar with online communication. Spread the word to see if any friends are looking for a computer. Some people may even want to use extra computers for print servers or email stations.

In Conclusion

The bottom line? Never toss a computer out with the trash. Given the numerous alternatives, there is certainly an option that will work for your situation. Regardless, be sure to back up then wipe the computer completely using one of the free or low cost options available.

These helpful tips are provided by Digital Defense, Inc., a computer security company working with your credit union as a responsible member of the community to help insure the privacy and security of our nation's financial information.

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