Do Photocopier Hard Drives Put you at Risk for Identity Theft? You bet.

They say that what you don't know can't hurt you. But when it comes to identity theft, that's simply not true. Number one on today's list of things you may not already know that most certainly CAN hurt you: used photocopiers.

The information held inside digital copiers could be used to steal your identity. Most digital copy machines use internal hard drives, which store every document that has ever been scanned, printed, faxed or emailed by the copy machine and worse, most businesses do not erase the hard drive on a copier before dumping it. You may be handing over your identity to a thief -every time you or someone else takes a photo copy of items such as your driver's license, insurance card, tax return or bank statement .  

Copiers manufactured since about 2002 store your scanned documents on a hard drive, and that hard drive goes with the copier when it is resold.  More often than not, so does your information.  Think I'm being paranoid?  Think again. Consider for a moment, all of the highly sensitive information stored on copiers  - medical records from a doctor's office, tax information, bank account data and social security numbers from an accountant's office, sensitive police records are stored in countless offices -both in government and the public sector, and that data hold the keys to your kingdom -your identity. 

In an investigative piece on CBS news, a journalist and his team purchased several copiers from a perfectly reputable used copier company.  They planned to remove the hard drives from the machines and see if the documents scanned in over the life of the copiers could be retrieved.  They got so much more than they bargained for.

Before they could even take the back panel off the first machine, they opened the top of the copier and found a document that had been copied and left in the copier.  You've done that, haven't you?  I know I have.  The document showed that the copier had been used in a police department, specifically in the sex crimes division.  Do you think maybe there was sensitive information copied on this copier?  The hard drive revealed thousands of documents, many of them containing lists of names of sex offenders and personally identifying details.

The copier you used to make a copy of your tax return, complete with your and your kids' social security numbers, still has a copy of that document.  The copier you used to make a copy of your birth certificate, driver's license, bank statements, medical records and passwords, may all end up in the wrong hands.  All those scanned and copied documents could still exist and, potentially, can be retrieved from a used copier.  Identity thieves already know this -and they know that if they can get their hands on the copier's hard drive they've hit pay dirt. Watch this stunning CBS investigative report that may have you thinking twice before you head to your neighborhood copy store.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Now that we know the dangers, what can we do about it? has put together an informative list of tips to help increase your photocopier safety.

1.Make sure the data modem and the fax modem are different.  Doing this prevents someone from being able to take the information stored on the copier and easily transmit it to another location through the open phone line. If you photocopier is connected to a fax modem, it could easily set a thief up to engage in something similar to online identity theft where he or she steals information from your copier without even being on site.

2. Purchase an overwriting or encryption component for your copier. If your office uses a copier that is more than a year old, you should check online and see if a component kit has been created by the maker of your copier to prevent information from being stored either at all or in unencrypted form. Both Xerox and Sharp created add on components once they realized that the existing technology left people vulnerable to identity theft. If preventing identity theft has become a priority for them, it should become one for you too.

3. Don't use public copy machines for sensitive information. Whenever possible, only use copy machines you are familiar with and where you have some element of control when it comes to monitoring the security risk. Using public copy machines is much like using shared computers or Wi-Fi. They leave your personal information exposed to any hacker that knows how to get to it. Make every effort to protect yourself from identity fraud.

4. Buy your own printer or fax machine with photocopying capabilities. If you routinely photocopy sensitive information either for personal or business purposes, consider purchasing your own miniature photocopy machine and make sure it is outfitted with sufficient security features that either eliminate or encrypt stored information. And don't hook your machine up to a community server. Not using shared servers greatly reduces your risk of identity theft.

5. Use passwords that protect the information you copy. Password protected copy machines may require those same passwords to retrieve information stored on the hard drive. So, create a password for the office copier in the same way you would create an ATM pin code. Guard your password and don't share it with anyone. If you give your password to one person (even if you trust him or her) he or she may share it freely with others thinking it is no big deal. If you want to prevent identity theft, you can't rely on other people. You must be proactive on your own behalf.

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