Tips: Safely, Securely Dispose Of Obsolete Computers

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 250 million computers will become obsolete in the next five years -- many ending up in landfills -- but it doesn’t mean that old technology is worthless. Many organizations and people, from charities to ID thieves, would love to get their hands on discarded computers, and Better Business Bureau (BBB) offers the following advice on how to dispose of an obsolete PC or Mac safely and securely.

“Computer manufacturers depend on planned obsolescence, which means your new PC can be woefully behind the technology times in less than a year,” said Steve Cox, BBB spokesperson. “Unfortunately, many Americans are not aware of the dangers associated with improperly disposing of a computer -- namely ID theft and polluting the environment.”

Simply tossing a computer out with the trash is a bad idea for two reasons. Not only does a computer store personal and financial information that a consumer wouldn’t want getting into the hands of ID thieves, but it is also composed of heavy metals and toxins that are extremely hazardous to the environment. In fact, in some states, an individual runs the risk of fines or even jail time for improperly disposing of a computer.

Consumers have options when it comes to discarding a computer. Selling an old computer as-is is one choice, but given that technology becomes obsolete fairly quickly, getting much money for it can be difficult. There are also recycling services that will take old computers and either refurbish them or take them apart and dispose of the non-valuable pieces properly.

However, BBB recommends donating old computers to charity. The donation is tax deductible and it can help a good cause. For guidance on finding a worthy cause, Techsoup.com has a list of organizations nationwide that accept computer donations. And consumers should always check out the charity with BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance before they donate (www.bbb.org/charity).

Regardless of whether someone plans to donate an old computer to charity, sell it, or send it off to be recycled, it’s important that they completely erase all personal data and information from the computer in order to prevent ID theft. Simply deleting files or reformatting the hard drive is not enough since someone with a basic understanding of computers will still be able to retrieve key information.

There are several free software programs available for download online that will erase -- or wipe -- information effectively enough to prevent ID theft. Also, many operating systems and some anti-virus software already come with a wiping feature. Keep in mind that data on personal computers is never completely erased and the only way to completely wipe out information is to physically destroy the hard drive.

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