Whether you like to have the latest and greatest in smartphones and tablets, or your device is ten years old and no longer holds a battery charge, there are several important steps to take before making your next purchase.
In some ways, our smartphones and tablets know more about us than our spouses or best friends. And when you go to trade in, donate, or dispose of the old device, you don’t want all that information to fall into someone else’s hands.
It’s vital that you wipe your old phone and tablet clean. This security step also applies to laptops and desktops, but the process is a little different. In this article, we will focus on smartphones and tablets.
Wiping your device clean may seem too technical and complicated for some users, thus increasing the chances of fraud and identity theft. However, the concept is important. We encourage you to read this article through to the end, where we do provide an easy workaround solution.
How to Wipe A Device Clean
There are two ways to wipe a smartphone and tablet. One way resets your phone to the factory default settings, while the other purges all user data and content – all your contacts, photos, calendars, texts, apps, and personal information.
Either way, wiping your device can eliminate your exposure to hackers and others who might try to use your information in ways you never intended.
If you are using the factory default, encrypt your data too. Android phones purchased since 2016 are automatically encrypted, and iPhones are encrypted if you use a password, Touch ID, or facial recognition. Once encrypted, your sensitive data will be virtually impossible to read by someone else.
If you want to go beyond the factory default and remove your data, both Apple and Google for Androids offer straightforward how-to directions. Here’s how to erase your iPhone, and here are instructions for resetting your Android device to factory settings.
Backup Your Data
Before you do anything, it’s imperative that you back up all of your data so it can easily be transferred to your new phone or tablet. Backups are usually done through the Cloud (iCloud for iPhone users, Google Drive or Dropbox for Android users). The backup feature can be accessed through the Settings icon on your phone and tablet. There are also third-party applications you can buy to back up all of your files.
Apple and most other brands offer 5 GB (gigabytes) of free cloud storage. If you need more, it’s easy to upgrade at 99 cents a month for 50 GB or $2.99 a month for 1 TB (terabyte), which is more than most of us will ever need.
By the way, even if you are not about to get a new device, it’s advisable to back up your data regularly and, ideally, automatically. Even with all of the tech advances, any device can fail at anytime.
Once you’ve completed the backup, you can use that file to restore your data and settings on your new device.
Wait! You’re Not Done Yet.
Apple notes that when you delete data – a photo or a text message, for example — “it’s no longer accessible through the iPhone interface, but it isn’t erased from iPhone storage.” To remove all your content and settings from storage, erase them through the Settings icon.
While restoring the phone to its factory settings is a crucial step, it may not be enough. Thieves can still use data recovery tools that will enable them to find snippets of data on your phone. Constant vigilance is the key. Here are some additional tips for preventing fraud.
Another Hazard: SIM cards
Last year, the FBI warned about the dangers of thieves who steal SIM cards and all of their valuable information. A SIM card is the memory card in each smartphone that stores the phone owner’s identity. It connects your mobile device to basic functions such as making phone calls, text messages, and connecting to data.
The SIM card does not contain personal information, but it does hold your cellular account info.
Once they obtain your SIM card, criminals can impersonate you. According to the FBI, your “calls, texts and other data are diverted to the criminal’s device.” At that point, they have taken control of your phone number.
The FBI makes several suggestions to protect yourself, including not sharing personal information online or with phone reps requesting passwords or pins. Also, make sure you use multi-factor authentication when possible, and do not store passwords on your mobile device.
Read more about password security here.
Once you have your new smartphone, it’s best to simply destroy the old SIM card. You can take steps to wipe it clean as well, or go old-school and take a hammer to it.
Some experts also recommend that you record your phone’s unique ID number for future reference, just in case.
If Wiping Your Device Sounds Too Hard
If these steps seem too complicated to do on your own, most reputable retailers such as Apple, Verizon, Best Buy, and others will help when you buy a new phone or tablet but expect to spend a few hours at the store.
All these steps represent a small investment of time and money to ensure that your sensitive information is protected and not vulnerable to hackers.