Really Deleting What's on Your Computer

Yesterday I stressed the importance of scrubbing clean your computer before donating it (or putting it in the trash). Charitable organizations generally don't remove the data from your computer when you donate it. Consequently, they pass all your private electronic data on to the next owner.

Here's what to do in order to prep it for donation:

  1. Copy everything on your old computer to your new one. Be thorough, you never know what you'll regret having trashed. Try the SimpleTech Signature Mini, which I wrote about earlier.
  2. Remove e-mail contacts and messages. People often remember to delete bank information, but forget these things.
  3. Clear out your browser bookmarks/favorites. You might have sensitive information marked for easy retrieval that you forgot was in there.
  4. Likewise, clear out your Internet cache. Here's how to do it in Internet Explorer, and a nice little video on how to do it in Firefox.
  5. Remember to delete your photos, journal entries or any stored frequent flyer or credit card information.
  6. Delete all your documents, including what's in the recycle bin or trash folder.

Now that you're done with that, realize that you're not done. What happens when you delete a file is that it's not really gone. It's just made available to write over. It's like an Etch-a-Sketch. When you're done making concentric circles (the only thing I was ever able to do), you don't throw it away. You shake it so you can draw another picture.

So first step is to call your computer manufacturer's technical department and ask how they recommend to your personal files. They built it, they should have ideas on how to delete it.

Depending on what they tell you, you might be asked to pick up some disk-cleaning software. There are many free versions available; just type "file shredder" into your favorite search engine and pick one. If you want to spend money, try Symantec’s Norton SystemWorks for about $50. But pick something, and make sure you clean it up.

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