Used Computer Snafu
January 13, 2007 11:15 AM   Subscribe

My mother just sold my family's old computer without zeroing the hard drive. How concerned should I be?

My mother called me this morning to report the results of her yard sale. She excitedly mentioned that our old family computer had fetched $50.

I asked whether she had zeroed the hard drive before the sale, and she asked what on earth that meant.

The last time I used the computer was in highschool, so I know none of my financial information is readily available on it. But my mother had used it to keep track of business records for my father.

How concerned should I be that a teenaged boy bought this computer? Is there anything I can do at this point to safeguard records, etc? Do I need to be watchful for a particular period of time?
posted by jefficator to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How concerned should I be that a teenaged boy bought this computer?

Great question. Have you considered asking your mom who she sold it to? Theoretically, you could go home, zero the hard drive, and offer whomever bought it to do a fresh install, just to make your life and their life easier.

This question is entirely dependent upon a key piece of evidence you haven't told us: who bought it?
posted by SeizeTheDay at 11:27 AM on January 13, 2007

If you don't know who bought it, and business records as far as tax information for employees and themselves are on that computer, I'd suggest your parents at the very least each put a fraud alert on their SS# and notify any people under their employ (if applicable).
posted by jerseygirl at 11:40 AM on January 13, 2007

A teenaged boy bought it. So, if you're lucky, he's looking for homemade porn, not financial data.

If you're especially concerned, you might have your parents contact their various banks, credit card companies, credit bureaus, etc., and ask them to put a fraud watch on their accounts.
posted by box at 11:41 AM on January 13, 2007

Speaking as someone who shreds his financial documents before throwing them away, despite the fact that I live in a quiet suburb where I've watched the garbagemen toss my weekly load into a truck filled with bottles of bleach and stale bananas before activating the compactor, I can sympathize with your concern. If I were in your shoes, I'd feel the same.

But I'm not — and as a detached observer, I have the luxury of remembering that the chances are low that anybody will (1) be interested, (2) bother actually trying to recover the info, and (2) put it to nefarious purpose. Without looking up statistics, I'd speculate that the odds are probably higher that you'll be killed by slipping in the tub.
posted by cribcage at 11:44 AM on January 13, 2007

Sorry. I was very unclear. There are a great variety of teenage boys and it really just depends on what kind of boy bought it. He may have bought it because his parents couldn't afford a better computer, or because he needed the parts to construct his own, or he's a malicious little bastard who understands computers all too well.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 11:46 AM on January 13, 2007

My brother would be such a boy. He's a high school freshman with a dad who's been to jail for embezzlement. I'm thinking of what he'd do. He'd read everything, maybe keep it, maybe even use it as found art in some way (if he takes after me) but not defraud anybody with it. For one thing, teenage boys aren't all atheists yet. Some still try really hard to do the right thing by a values system they don't deeply examine.

And then he'd hopefully spraypaint it camo and run Command and Conquer on it 24/7 right in between his X360, his 8-bit (from me) his Sega Genesis (from my man) and his heavily modded PC. By the futon in my parent's garage.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:09 PM on January 13, 2007

Frankly, if you ask me, cruising yard sales has never seemed like something that teens really are all that into, and the obsolete hardware in a $50 yard sale computer is not likely to excite any teens that I've ever met. Of course that's just a sweeping generalization, and my real point here is that it doesn't really matter the particular demographic that bought the thing. More to the point, I think it's safe to say this kind of thing happens quite frequently as many people just don't think about identity theft that much, and see computers as just appliances rather that data repositories. And on top of that, most people in this world are still honest, so thankfully it's a mistake you can still get away with. It's quite likely that you have nothing to worry about. Still, that doesn't mean that it wouldn't be a good idea to order free credit reports a couple of times in the next few years and pay extra attention to financial statements, but that's just free insurance. And definitely educate her so that she never does something like that again.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:59 PM on January 13, 2007

Oh, and upon re-reading your question it's not clear to me now whether you were stating that it /was/ bought by a teenaged boy or whether you were concerned that it /might/ have been. My reply above was based on the latter.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:01 PM on January 13, 2007

For one thing, teenage boys aren't all atheists yet.

I don't see what religious persuasion or lack thereof has to do with anything. Atheists are no more inclined towards crime than any other demographic group.

Back on topic, I wouldn't worry too much. Most people don't know how to get at the data or care enough to try.
posted by chrisamiller at 1:17 PM on January 13, 2007

Response by poster: Sorry for the confusion. The computer *was* purchased by a teenaged boy. Just the computer...not the moniter, keyboard, or mouse.
posted by jefficator at 2:36 PM on January 13, 2007

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