14 News Special Report: Selling Yourself Out - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

14 News Special Report: Selling Yourself Out

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If you don't want your old cell phone or tablet computer anymore, chances are someone out there does.

Used devices are for sale right now on sites like Ebay and Craigslist, and they are loaded with forgotten data. What kind of data? The kind identify thieves would love to have. We checked out three smart-devices to see what we could find.

The days of one family sharing a home desktop computer are long gone. Now, many of us are walking around with mini-computers in our pockets. Devices that search the web, take pictures, upload documents, amassing heaps of information about you. As we found out, that info may stick around long after you ditch your device.

For most of us, April 30 was just an ordinary Tuesday, but for Evansville's Jordan Helms, it was the day his car payment was due. He's been making that payment online on his iPad for the last three years. As well as submitting homework assignments, and downloading apps, this iPad is a running record of Jordan's life.

14 News found Jordan right before he put that iPad up for sale.

Myrtle from Owensboro is a former Deputy Jailer who knows about keeping things locked up. She has a Motorola Android Smart Phone, loaded with texts, photos, and a lengthy Internet search history.

"Whenever I didn't have home internet, I used it to long onto my computer," says Myrtle. "So anything I have done on my computer would also show up on my phone as well."

We also met her right before she put her device for up for sale.

14 News acquired a company issued cell phone that belonged to a woman who left her job, but left her mobile device and its contents behind.

We brought all of the devices to Software Engineer Max Haddan, who went looking for private information; the kind of information that is stolen 19 times a minute across the U.S. according to the Federal Trade Commission. Information that can be used to assume control of your current accounts, open new ones, even buy a horse or a car. The list goes on.

"There are lots of programs that make it easier and easier for people to find that type of information," says Haddan.

We gave Max a week to see what he could find. Some of the devices had been factory reset; some had just been manually deleted. Here's what he found.

"The first device was an iPad, first generation," says Max. "It was factory reset so I wasn't able to access anything."

As for Myrtle's smartphone:

"The second device is a Motorola Android Device," says Max. "Whenever I tried to access the information, there wasn't any available."

It too had been restored to factory settings. But what about the work-issued phone?

"At first glance, there wasn't any information, but whenever I looked deeper into the phone's storage, I was able to find some personal information," says Haddan.

In a matter of minutes, Max was able to figure out passwords, and access sensitive files like their previous user's mortgage statement. He also found an electronic check stub with her year-to-date income. Then, there was the back-up contacts list with the cell phone numbers and addresses of 88 of her closest friends.

A virtual gold mine if in the wrong hands.

"You can't just delete the data on the phone, you actually have to go into the settings and select the factory reset option in order to completely wipe all of the data off the phone instead of just deleting the individual files, which doesn't delete the files in reality," says Max.

If all of this seems frightening to you, you could just trying smashing the device with a sledgehammer. It might just be the one way to make sure your information absolutely will not fall into the wrong hands.

There are several toxic chemicals in electronic device that can contaminate ground water, so you might consider recycling your old phones and tablets.

These are three locations in Evansville that will collect used phones and tablets:

  • Best Buy
    6300 E Lloyd Expressway
    Evansville, IN 47715
    812-471-2817

You can also visit the Federal Trade Commission's website if you're worried about identity theft. There you will find a step-by-step guide on how to repair your credit and also sample letters a victim would send to a bank to help limit the damage caused by identity theft.

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