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From Scanner to Scam – Being Careful with Data

Many commercial copiers and scanners contain hard drives that store data. (Guruleninn/Wikimedia Commons)
Many commercial copiers and scanners contain hard drives that store data. (Guruleninn/Wikimedia Commons)
August 9, 2016

CROMWELL, Conn. - Making a copy of your tax return could put you at risk of identity theft. Commercial copiers, scanners and printers are essentially computers. Many have hard drives and store data that can be retrieved. Identity thieves sometimes buy used commercial machines to collect that stored data.

Howard Schwartz, the executive communications director with the Connecticut Better Business Bureau advised consumers and businesses to take precautions.

"The best way to protect yourself is to be aware of the problem and to be very careful about what you scan in or copy and where." he said. "It's probably safest to do so at home."

Most home scanners and printers do not have hard drives and don't pose the same kind of risks.

But not everyone has a scanner or a home printer. Schwartz said using an office copier, going to a public library or a commercial copy center to make copies of a driver's license, passport or tax return can put consumers at risk.

"It's not a big deal for someone who knows what they're doing to pull a hard drive out of a copier and get pretty much anything they want," he added. Simply erasing your files doesn't work."

Some newer machines are now encrypting data or deleting it soon after printing, making identity theft less of a risk.

Companies that lease copiers and scanners return them once the lease is up, or if they buy them, they might be sold or thrown out when no longer in use. In either case, Schwartz pointed out that there are steps that can be taken to be sure important data doesn't go with the machine.

"There are experts you can call in to ensure that that disc drive has been wiped clean," he said. "Or you can check the company's website and find out what has to be done."

Consumers are advised to take similar precautions when selling or throwing away any computer equipment that contains a hard drive.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - CT