Computer recycling advice is 'rubbish'Bad council advice could help ID thieves

06 March 2008

A computer in a skip

Physically destroying the hard drive is the safest option

Some councils are giving out bad advice on computer recycling which could lead to sensitive personal data falling into the hands of identity thieves, says Computing Which? today.

Researchers at the magazine called more than 100 UK councils that run computer recycling services and found that one in seven couldn’t say what would happen with a computer after it was recycled.

Worryingly, most didn't seem to know much about the safety of personal data stored on old PCs - and didn't seem overly concerned about it.

When asked whether data should be deleted before sending the computer for recycling, responses were vague.

Vague advice

One advisor said it ‘shouldn't be a problem’ while another said: ‘You can easily uninstall any information.’

Both of these answers are misleading as a knowledgeable identity thief could easily recover deleted or uninstalled files.

Computing Which? Editor Sarah Kidner said: ‘It’s natural to look to local councils for help and advice on getting rid of old computers and monitors; after all they usually take the lead on waste disposal.

‘Yet our investigation shows the quality of advice and availability of services vary. Perhaps more worrying is the lack of knowledge and advice on how to dispose of the data stored on your computer. This could mean that the local tip becomes a hunting ground for identity thieves.’

Identity thieves

Computing Which? has the following recycling advice:

  • use specialist software to remove your data. To make sure your data don't fall into the wrong hands, remove the hard drive before you dispose of your computer.
  • take your PC to a recycling point
  • ask the shop whether they'll handle it. PC retailers must provide free take-back facilities for customers to return old equipment whenever you buy a replacement item
  • donate it to a charity. Some councils will provide you with details of local non-profit groups which may accept your PC.