How to Clear Old Cell Phones, Avoid ID Theft

Today's cell phones are really powerful mini-computers, and they contain plenty of private information, from personal photos to bank account numbers.

Americans upgrade their phones every 18 months, on average, but when you get rid of your old phone, you had better make sure to scrub it clean.

In an age of rampant identity theft, "Early Show" Consumer Correspondent Susan Koeppen bought a used phone from a store that sells used electronics to show just how easy it is to get someone's information. She found the phone was loaded with the previous owner's information, from racy text messages to his personal contact lists.

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So before you resell, recycle or donate your phone, check out Koeppen's suggestions for completely clearing your phone of all of your personal information:

Remove the SIM Card

Just hitting "delete" might not be enough. You might not be able to see it, but the data could still be on your device. You have to take some extra steps to permanently wipe it clean.

First, you should remove your phone's SIM card (SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module). A lot of personal information is stored there.

Remove the Memory Card

Many smart phones now come with an additional memory card for you to load up on apps, pictures and video. You should remove that card as well.

Use Reset Option

On the phone Koeppen bought, the SIM card had been removed, and so had the memory card. The data "The Early Show" found was on the phone's internal memory.

To really make sure there's no personal information left, you have to know how to wipe the memory completely clean. Many phones have a "reset" option that will completely delete all the data off of your phone. You can check your manual or search online for directions. Just make sure you back-up anything you want to save, because once you reset your phone, it's gone for good.

Koeppen's Additional Tip:

Some companies that re-sell old cell phones say they erase all personal data before re-selling your phone. And if you're thinking of donating, all the major carriers have recycling programs. But only some guarantee to completely wipe old phones clean. So if you want to be really sure, even the phone companies say, you should clean it out yourself.
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