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Your personal computer may have a lot of sensitive information on it. That could be financial information like your account numbers or tax returns. Or it could be personal information like email messages or photos. Before you get rid of your old computer, follow these steps to delete your personal information from the hard drive so it doesn’t end up in the hands of an identity thief. 

Step 1: Back Up Your Information

Think about what important information you want to save, like photos, videos, or important documents. How much storage space will you need to save that information? Knowing what you want to save and how much space you’ll need will help you choose the best solution for backing up your data. Here are some options: 

Option 1: Transfer Your Files to Your New Computer 

If you bought a new computer, one option is to transfer information from your old computer to the new one. Most operating system manufacturers have support articles that tell you how to do this. 

Option 2: Save Your Files in the Cloud 

Another option is to save your files and data online. You might be familiar some of these services — like Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, or iCloud — but there are many others out there. Many providers give you some free storage space and let you pay for more. 

Providers of cloud storage use encryption to protect your data — encryption is the process of scrambling the information to hide the contents of the file. 

If you’re thinking about using cloud storage, find out what level of privacy or security the different services offer. Look for one that offers multi-factor authentication to protect your information. 

Option 3: Save Your Files to an External Storage Device 

A USB flash drive is an affordable option that offers a moderate amount of storage. Another option is an external hard drive. It might cost a little more than a USB drive, but it gives you more storage capacity and transfers data faster. You choose which files or folders to back up. You also might be able to schedule automatic backups.

Step 2: Erase Your Hard Drive

Next, erase your computer’s hard drive. Your operating system will come with a program that will let you erase all your files from the hard drive and reset it to factory settings. 

Step 3: Dispose of Your Computer

Most computers contain hazardous materials that don’t belong in a landfill. See the Environmental Protection Agency's Electronics Donation and Recycling page to learn about recycling or donating your computer. Or check with the computer manufacturer or a local electronics store.

You backed up your personal information, erased your hard drive, and safely disposed of your old computer. Now learn how to protect your new computer from hackers.

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