How Your Personal Information is at Risk When Selling a Cell Phone

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- When you get a new phone, do you think about all the information still stored on your old phone?

According to The New York Times, Americans, on average, get a new phone every 22 months. Think of how much information your phone has on it: phone numbers, passwords and Internet history. But if you sell your old phone, is your information being sold along with it?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, identity theft affects more than 11.5 million Americans per year, and your cell phone is the most portable piece of personal information you have. Our phones, iPads and tablets are there to make our lives easier, but think about how much of your information is saved on your device.

According to the Identity Theft Assistance Center, nearly two out of three Americans who are victims of identity theft don't know the source of the crime, which makes it even more important to protect your personal information.

"People don't think about how much information is so accessible on their phone," said Derek Cain, the general manager of Best Buy in Harrisonburg.

When you buy a phone that has been refurbished, you are not getting someone's spruced-up phone. Instead, you are getting the best pieces from many phones, like a puzzle, which makes it nearly impossible to have someone else's information. The real risk is when you attempt to sell your phone.

Right now, there are more than 86,000 used cell phones for sale just on eBay.

Jordan White recently sold his phone, but he wanted to make sure his personal information would not be accessed. He knew to do a factory reset on his phone; however, Cain said not everyone knows they have to perform a factory reset when they attempt to sell or trade-in their phones.

"I think you'd be surprised," he said. "I think it's more than you would think. People are afraid to hit that final button, to wipe their phone."

Most technology stores will help you make sure all your information is completely erased from your phone, but you still need to be aware of the risks.

White said he took his phone into his cell carrier's store.

"I was surprised when I took it in, that they didn't question me, they didn't tell me to erase my information so people who are going in who don't know to erase their phones may turn in some valuable information to other people," White said.
"The way these phones are built, when you wipe the device from the software built into it, you completely lose everything," Cain said.

But is everything completely gone? Some security experts say no.

Sgt. Jason Kidd, with the Harrisonburg Police Department Criminal Investigations Division, said the average person, or even someone with high knowledge of security, may not be able to pull information off a phone that has been reset, but there is reason to be concerned.

"It's not foolproof. Someone with an advanced level of sophistication would be able to access the information potentially," said Kidd.

The recommended advice? First, know that just manually deleting information won't completely erase it from the phone's internal system. By selling an electronic device on a website, you are at your own risk. Also, back up your information, and then perform a reset.

"The best way is that factory reset in my opinion. That is the best, the bare minimum you need to do. As far as a foolproof way, there's just not one," said Kidd.

Some experts even recommend doing a reset more than once. The only foolproof way to make sure your data is not being accessed is to destroy the internal memory.

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