Connecticut BBB warns of ID theft risk lurking in office equipment

Connecticut Better Business Bureau warns business owners and employees that digital copiers/scanners have long memories, and that criminals can retrieve virtually every document ever scanned by the device.

Since 2002, most digital copiers have been equipped with a hard drive that can store anything that is copied, printed, scanned, faxed or emailed. You may have been put at risk if you have ever used a copy center, your workplace or library to copy financial documents, health records, passports, Social Security Numbers and virtually anything else you scan. All of this is extremely valuable to identity thieves.

“In essence, networked business machines are a form of computer,” according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman Howard Schwartz. “Like any computer, stored information can be retrieved by third parties. This is why consumers are encouraged to remove and destroy home computers’ hard drives when they sell them, give them away or throw them out.”

Businesses commonly lease copiers and return them when the contract is up. Criminals are known to purchase these machines at discount prices with the goal of retrieving the data stored within them.

Scanners and printers that hook up directly to your home computer are not a major risk, however, business machines are usually networked to computers, and networks can be hacked. Newer copiers have the ability to encrypt scanned information or clear their own memory, but the extra cost may be a deterrent to some business owners.

BBB offers the following tips on how to protect yourself at the office:

  • When a copiers lease is up, make sure the device’s hard drive is erased before sending it off to the warehouse or a buyer. Companies should take responsibility for seeing this is done or request proof that the task is done if performed by a third party.
  • Have a copier professional assist with the related security tasks. Removing the hard drive could damage firmware that makes the copier run. If you delete data with no way to reinstall the firmware, you could render the machine inoperable.
  • For your personal safety, limit what you copy, even if it is permitted by your company. Consider home options, where you have more control over the data. When you use a copy center, library or other third party location to make copies, understand the risks and be aware of their policies and procedures for dealing with data hard drives. Do not use them if you are uncomfortable with the policy.
  • If an office copier is being repaired, ensure the technician is from your copier company. Someone who walks in asking to see your copier could be an identity thief. Consider having someone stay with the tech to oversee the repair work.
  • If you intend to get rid of a personal computer, deleting information is not sufficient to wipe the storage disk clean. You can use an install disk to return the device to its factory settings or buy software capable of completely erasing a computer drive.

Ultimately, you are responsible for your personal information, so use every precaution available and be careful.

For more information, visit the Identity Theft Resource page. You can find qualified experts to help you buy, repair and protect your computers and related systems at bbb.org/.

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