If you are planning to dispose of or trade-in your old smartphone for recycling or for a discount on a new purchase, you should reset and erase (overwrite) your smartphone storage. This is a necessary step to prevent unauthorized access to your personal information.
A smartphone may contain sensitive Personal Identifiable Information (PII) and confidential data such as,
photos, videos, documents;
emails, contacts, messages;
saved credit cards, social media logins, internet-banking details;
browsing history, and app data such as WhatsApp chat history
If a malicious user gets access to your factory reset smartphone, they can retrieve your PII such as Social Security Number (SSN) and sell it on the dark web for a premium price.
NOTE: Factory resetdoes not erase data from your smartphone but formats the internal storage which leaves your sensitive information still vulnerable to data recovery.
How Much Is Your Data Worth?
As per Experian, your data could be worth hundreds of USD.
Here are the 10 most common pieces of information that can be retrieved from your old smartphone and how much they can be sold for on the dark web,
Social Security Number (SSN): $1
Online payment services login info (e.g. PayPal): $20-$200
Credit and Debit card details: $5-$110
With CVV number: $5
With bank info: $15
Loyalty accounts: $20
Subscription services: $1-$10
Driver’s license details: $20
Passports (US): $1000-$2000
Medical records: $1-$1000
5 Reasons Your Old Smartphone Can Be a Goldmine for Data Thieves
Your Social Security Number (SSN) is the most important piece of information that data thieves can use to open new loan accounts and get credit cards on your name. This will damage your credit score and chances of getting a new loan or credit card.
One can use your personal information such as medical history and SSN to buy prescribed drugs or undergo medical treatment on your health insurance, leaving you vulnerable at the time of need.
This may also affect your treatments and cause life-threatening situations if your medical history, such as blood group or other medical conditions, has been tampered.
Data thieves can use your personal information to commit crimes. A thief or criminal might give your name to a law-enforcement agency during an arrest. This will not only hurt your reputation but also prevent you from getting a job or applying for any benefit that requires a background check.
Fraudulent Access to Social Security Benefits
Your personal information can be used to steal your social security benefits. A data thief can try to redirect your existing benefits to their bank account by using your personal information. Also, they can file for benefits on your name and get money deposited in their bank account.
Utility and Tax Frauds
Data thieves can also use your personal information to drain your bank accounts; open new utility accounts; file for a tax refund in your name and get the refund in their bank accounts.
TIP: If you find that someone is misusing your PII, you can go to IdentityTheft.gov to report the crime.
How to Prevent Identity Theft from Your Old Mobile Phone
Before you sell, donate, trade-in, or dispose of your old smartphone, reset the phone and then overwrite the internal storage by dumping random data. You must repeat this process at least three times to make the data irrecoverable.
This method may take several hours or days based on the device’s storage capacity. Alternatively, you can use a more effective solution such as BitRaser File Eraser to permanently destroy personal information stored on mobile phones.
The software uses international data erasure algorithms such as DoD 5220.22-M, NATO, etc. to permanently erase all sensitive information from your mobile’s storage and SD card beyond the scope of recovery.
To Wrap Up
Extracting data from your old smartphone is no big deal for data thieves. Access to modern technologies makes it easy to extract personal information from your smartphones even if you have reset the device.
This personal information can be used for various illegal activities such as reaping your social benefits, committing crimes, online frauds, redirecting tax refunds and benefits to different bank accounts, etc.—all on your name.
Thus, before disposing of your old mobile phone or storage device such as SD card, reset the device and overwrite the storage by using a secure file erasure software such as BitRaser File Eraser .
You may also overwrite the mobile phone’s internal storage by dumping random data after resetting the device. This process, however, needs to be repeated several times to overwrite smartphone data. However, this isn’t an effective way of removing personal information from smartphones as it only makes data recovery difficult for data thieves—not impossible.
But a secure file erasure software can help destroy data from mobile phones and SD cards beyond the scope of recovery.