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CALL 6: Private, personal information found on used computers

Consumers upset their SSNs left for anyone to find
Posted at 10:44 PM, Apr 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-20 09:27:18-04

INDIANAPOLIS --  Before you sell or donate your old computer, you might want to think twice about the personal information you could be leaving behind.

Even if you can’t turn on your device or log in, cybercriminals can still access your sensitive information and steal your identity.

Call 6 Investigates bought second-hand computers and what we found was shocking.

Dan Ford, an IT security expert with Rook Security, helped us choose three computers to buy on eBay and Craigslist.

We paid $200 for all three: A computer that used to be at a preschool which we picked up at a local flea market, a Gateway computer on eBay, and a laptop from Craigslist.

Ford spent three hours analyzing the devices and then told Call 6 Investigates what he found.

First, we asked about the computer that used to be at a preschool.

“There really wasn’t much on it,” said Ford. “We didn’t find anything interesting on the preschool computer.”

Second, the Gateway from eBay.

“On that computer I was able to find tax forms from 2005, 2006,” said Ford. “This person had their social security numbers on there, but also their wife and their children which is scary enough, but then I realized that they also founded a business.” 

Ford found a slew of information on a New Jersey arts and crafts business including bank account numbers.

"This could be my business now and lock them out and it would take them awhile to get back in,” said Ford. “I could take over their business. There’s a wire transfer with the debit account information along with the routing number, and that information could be used to re-route wire transfers.”

And last was the laptop we found on Craigslist and picked up in a fast food parking lot.

"The laptop was a gold mine,” said Ford.

We found a passport, a birth certificate, children’s social security cards, and spreadsheets with hundreds of employees and their personal information including names, birthdates, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and their social security numbers.

“The trifecta is their name, social security number and their birthdate—having that information is basically key to making a new identity,” said Ford.   "This information is a goldmine, not just for me creating another identity, but also me selling this to the highest bidder. This is very big money."

Ford said he could probably make $10,000 by selling the personal information on the dark web.

Call 6 Investigates tracked down some of the people whose personal information was on the laptop, including Nancy Baker in Plainfield.

It wasn’t hard to find her, after all, we had all of her personal information including her social security number.

“It’s very upsetting,” said Baker.

The file Call 6 Investigates found showed Baker provided her personal information in 2011 during a background check for a potential job.

“I just had no idea that by giving it to an employer they would expose it to I don’t know who,” said Baker. “I never would have expected it in a million years, because I’m normally pretty good about what background information I give out.”

Call 6 Investigates also tracked down Anitra Mason in Indianapolis using her social security number, birthdate and address.

"That’s all of my personal information, that's crazy," said Mason. “I’m already going through identity theft right now.  Somebody was getting food stamps in my name.”

Baker, Mason and others wanted to know how this happened.

So, Call 6 Investigates went straight to the man who sold us the computer, Don Gray.

Gray has worked in staffing and IT and told us he sometimes used his personal laptop for work.

He did not agree to an on camera interview, but Gray did meet with Call 6 Investigates and apologized to the people whose personal information he compromised.

“I’m sorry, I got lazy, and I didn’t follow normal protocols,” said Gray.

Gray said he thought he had deleted everything, but he didn’t.

“Normally I would have uninstalled and deleted all the Microsoft Office files and in this particular case I didn’t,” said Gray. “I thought I got everything, but obviously I didn’t.”

Gray said the social security cards, birth certificate and passport all belonged to his own family.

He also assured us he did not distribute or share anyone’s personal information.

IT expert Dan Ford said while the average person probably couldn’t have found the files on the laptop, someone tech-savvy could recover the information.

As for Nancy Baker and Anitra Mason, they’re just happy it was Call 6 Investigates who bought the laptop and not someone wanting to steal their identity.

“If you guys hadn’t found the laptop, who is to say who I would or wouldn’t be?” said Baker.

If you’re looking to sell or donate your computer, a good option is to take it to a computer expert and have them wipe it and install a new operating system.

RELATED | How to protect your identity by destroying electronics

Or, you can remove the hard drive and destroy it by shredding it.

Shred-it is partnering with AARP and Crime Stoppers for a community shred day on April 21 where you can bring your electronics and paper to five locations to be shredded.

Selling a computer without a hard drive will lower the value, but it will help protect your identity.

As for the three computers we purchased, Call 6 Investigates will destroy the hard drives and files so that no one can access the personal information in the future.

In Indiana, you could face criminal charges if you intentionally sell someone’s personal information with the intent to defraud or steal someone’s identity.

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