As auctioneers we represent the interests of our sellers. An experienced auctioneer understands that this duty extends beyond selling price. We would never want to create future complications for our seller simply to get a few more dollars at the auction. Today more than ever, personal information is a sought-after and valuable commodity for malicious people. Used computers can be a gold mine for this type of data.
Personal and business computers can be full of confidential information. Simply reformatting the hard drive does not provide a meaningful barrier to a competent hacker. Although the likelihood of selling a computer to a hacker might be slim, the results could be very costly. Here are several scenarios to consider.
- Every year thousands of Americans file their taxes using home computer software. These records are stored on the hard drive and contain every piece of information needed for identity theft. Full names, address, Social Security numbers, income amounts, employer information are all part of tax returns that can turn someone’s credit upside down and take years to sort out.
- Old emails downloaded to a personal computer using a program like Outlook contain both personal information and passwords to online sites. This can give hackers access to online banking, online shopping, current email accounts and social media sites. With this information they can hijack your digital identity, reset passwords and drain your accounts.
- Some information stored on computers may be highly embarrassing. Most people treat their computers as if they were private and secure. The seller’s family may not want private photos, correspondence about an affair, illegal activities or their online search history exposed to the public. This can be embarrassing or even used as blackmail if it is damaging enough.
- Businesses are required to take data security measures to protect personal information. If this information is exposed (it doesn’t have to be used) to the public the resulting fines for a relatively small breach can easily run hundreds of thousands of dollars. Plus there is the risk of exposing trade secrets, customer lists, or other damaging business information to the public or worse the competition.
The solution: Remove the hard drive from the computer and destroy it prior to the auction. 99.9% of the damaging information is stored on the hard drive. Removing it eliminates the chance if it falling into the wrong hands. With or without a hard drive, used computers don’t sell for that much money at auction anyway. Removing the hard drive may have a small negative impact on the selling price, but it offers the peace of mind and security that it’s being sold without future liabilities.
For most sellers the risk of selling a complete computer outweighs the selling price at auction. It might not be reckless to sell used computers but if you are going to include the hard drives make sure you educate your sellers on the risks.