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Erasing Data From an Old Cell Phone

Donating unused cell phones to a good cause is a great idea. Leaving personal data on the old phone - not so good.

We’ve got a couple of old cell phones around the house and I'm sure we're not alone. I've been meaning to donate them to a good cause (Cell Phones for Soldiers, National Coalition for Domestic Violence, ASPCA, to name a few), but I haven't done it because I'm not sure how to make sure my personal information is wiped.

It turns out there's more to it than deleting contact information and removing the SIM card. Not only do we need to worry about our phone book, we need to erase the call log (received and made), voicemails, email and text messages (sent and received), organizer folders, Web search history, photos and any other personal secure information - such as bank accounts and credit card numbers.

Our phones have become our electronic filing cabinets and we need to clean them out before passing them on.

There's no one quick way to do this "hard reset." Unfortunately, each phone's make and model has a different method. If you still have your phone's user manual, look for words like “delete data” or “reformat device” for the procedure. 

No manual or no luck trying their way? Check out your wireless provider’s website or the phone manufacturer's website to see if they offer information on how to permanently delete information. I also found numerous YouTube videos explaining the step-by-step process for various phones.

Recellular offers a free data eraser. Simply enter your cell phone’s make and model and provide your e-mail address. Within minutes, you receive instructions.

I tried the data eraser for one of our phones and there were only two steps to obliterate all my personal data from it.

OK, even I can handle that. Time to erase and donate!

Montco IT October 24, 2011 at 11:26 AM
Joanne, this is great advise that applies to many, many of the electronic products in our homes and offices today including such things as printers, DVRs, and computers. I advise my clients to be extremely cautious when disposing of these types of items, either through recycling or donation, and recommend they separate the data storage from the device before donating unless they are comfortable with any possibility of the information being shared. Montco IT also has several good free tools we recommend for erasing data and even offer it as a service for those not wanting to do it themselves. Dave
joe October 24, 2011 at 01:01 PM
All the local Verizon Wireless stores have drop boxes for old phones and they are given to a domestic violence organization, which is nice, and easy to drop off.
ReCellular October 24, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Love the post, Joanne! And we're so happy you had a quick and easy experience with the Data Eraser--that's what we're going for! Thanks for sharing.

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