Americans discard 30 million computers and more than 120 million cellphones each year, but many don’t erase their personal data from the electronics. Think of all the personal information you’ve entered into your computer and smart phone over the years – name, bank account and credit card information.

Consumer Reports warns against recycling any electronic device with this data stored on it and says wiping phones and computers clean is a relatively easy and smart precaution to take.

If you don’t, “you’re literally giving your personal information out to the criminal world,” says Larry Daniel, who heads a Raleigh-based computer forensics company.

On the iPhone, users can erase data by going to “Settings,” clicking on “General,” pressing “Reset” and then selecting “Erase All Content and Settings.”

Consumer Reports’ computer expert Dean Gallea says erasing information on the Android is a bit more complicated. Users should go to “Settings” and choose “Privacy.” Then they should consult the online manual for the remaining steps.


To erase data from a personal computer, users need to download software. Consumer Reports says Darik’s Boot and Nuke ( is a good choice.

“You can download the software and put it on to a CD,” said Paul Reynolds of Consumer Reports. “Then you put the CD into the computer’s disk drive and follow the instructions to erase the hard drive’s contents.”

With Apple computers, the original operating system DVD comes with software to erase your files.

“You put it into the computer’s disk drive, and you reboot it, holding down the ‘C’ key during startup,” Reynolds said.

Once the computer boots up, choose “Utilities,” then choose “Disk Utility,” select “Hard Drive” and click “Erase.”

If you think it sounds like too much trouble, Daniel says think again.

“Criminal enterprises live off of personal data,” he said. “They love a hard drive they can get their hands on.”

Reporter: Monica Laliberte
Producer: Jenn Sorber Smith