You may not have ever stopped to consider just how much personal information lives inside of your PC. But our PCs are a wealth of information to any identity thief. Somewhere in your hard drive there are usernames, passwords, credit card information, banking account numbers, and perhaps even tax information. This is just as bad as your mailbox for providing a thief with everything he might need, and in this case you might be adding insult to injury by being the person to sell him your information.
The first thing you need to be aware of is that manually deleting files and programs doesn’t actually get rid of the data. The ghosts of that data remain in your system, ready to be retrieved by anyone skilled enough to do so. The data just goes inactive when you delete it and stops taking up quite so much memory. So you will want to get that drive wiped professionally, either with a software program like Wipe Drive or by taking it to a supplier to wipe for you.
Back up anything you want to keep, of course; make sure you’ve transferred it to your new computer or to a flash drive so you can get at it later. Once it’s wiped professionally the information is really wiped. It’s like taking an Etch-a-Sketch and shaking it so hard that you manage to wipe out even the faint lines.
If your computer is so old that you can’t even get it to reboot (meaning wiping software won’t run), then physically remove the hard drive and physically destroy it before recycling the computer. You should always recycle as, like batteries and cell phones, computers contain dangerous chemicals that can be harmful if left to leak away in a landfill.
You should follow one of these two processes no matter what you do with your computer though, whether you recycle it, sell it, or donate it to a charity. You simply don’t know who will be handling that information when the computer gets out of your hands. You can’t simply assume that whoever ends up with it won’t know how to retrieve that data. Once you’ve taken these steps you’ll be able to enjoy your new machine with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’ve taken every possible step to defend your identity.