How to Safely Get Rid of an Old Computer

by Christina DesMarais on February 09, 2015
in Computers and Software, Computer Safety & Support, Tips & How-Tos, Tech 101, Green Tech :: 28 comments

Updated on 2/9/2015 to reflect new pricing and recommendations

Have an old computer lying around the house? Don’t just throw it away. Computers house all sorts of toxins that are bad for the environment and all of us who live in it. Not to mention the personal information—passwords, account numbers, license keys or registration numbers for software programs, addresses and phone numbers, medical and prescription information, tax returns and other personal documents—that you would rather not fall into the wrong hands.

So what to do?

How to delete your personal information

However you choose to dispose of your computer, you need to do several things if you don’t want a stranger to access your data.

Save important files

Back up your files or transfer them to a new computer. While you can certainly invest in an external drive, the simplest way to do this is to use a cloud service such as Google Drive or Microsoft’s OneDrive. Google Drive gives you 15GB of storage for free and if you need more you can buy 100GB for $1.99 a month and 1TB for $9.99 a month. OneDrive gives you 15GB of free storage with options to buy 100GB, 200GB and 1TB for a monthly subscriptions of $1.99, $2.99 or $6.99 respectively. Apple iCloud only offers 5GB free and their 1TB option runs $19.99 per month while Dropbox offers just 2GB free, but their 1TB option is $9.99 a month currently.

After backing up your files in the cloud, you can easily transfer them to a new machine or access them anywhere you have an Internet connection, even from your smartphone. Cloud storage also comes in handy if your computer dies and you need to restore your files or you’re traveling and need access to data on a different device.

“Wipe” your hard drive clean

Simply deleting files won’t cut it. Even if a file name doesn’t show up on the list of available files the old file data is still there until it is overwritten and a bad guy can use a data recovery program to retrieve it. We’ve outlined the steps we recommend you take below.

  1. Delete and overwrite sensitive files. If you have tax documents and other sensitive files, make sure you delete these files with specialized software designed to meet government standards for secure deletion. For Windows PCs try File Shredder (free) and for Macs you can choose the Secure Empty Trash option after deleting your files. You can find it under Finder > Secure Empty Trash.
  2. Deauthorize your computer. Some programs, such as iTunes and Microsoft Office 365, only allow you to install software on a limited number of computers or allow a limited number of computers to access your files. So be sure to deauthorize your old computer with your accounts – before uninstalled your programs.
  3. Delete your browsing history. Most browsers save information about your browsing history and, depending on your settings, can even store your user names and passwords various sites. Obviously, you don’t want a stranger having access to this information. For Internet Explorer, you click on the cog wheel in the upper right corner to open the browser menu, then on the Safety option and then Delete Browsing History. Make sure all of the check boxes are selected so everything gets removed. Repeat this for any other browsers on your computer—Firefox, Safari, Chrome.
  4. Uninstall your programs. Some programs, such as Microsoft Office, may contain personal information such as your name and address or other details. So be sure to  uninstall any programs before disposing of your computer.
  5. Consult your employer about data disposal policies. If you use your computer for business purposes, check with your employer about how to manage business-related information on your computer. The law requires businesses to follow data security and disposal requirements for certain information that’s related to customers.
  6. Wipe your hard drive. Once you’ve gone through and removed the data you know is there, it’s time to remove anything else that may still be lingering. For PCs, the safest way to do that is to use a hard drive wiping program. Microsoft recommends Active@ KillDisk and Softpedia DP Wiper (both free downloads). Once you’ve gone through and removed the data you know is there, it’s time to perform a factory reset to ensure you’ve removed all of your personal files and software programs.For Macs, you’ll want to erase and reinstall OS X.  In the menu bar, choose Apple menu > Restart. Once your Mac restarts (and the gray screen appears), hold down the Command and R keys. Select Disk Utility, then click Continue. Select your startup disk on the left, then click the Erase tab. Choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled) from the Format menu, enter a name, then click Erase. After the disk is erased, choose Disk Utility > Quit Disk Utility. Select Reinstall OS X, click Continue, then follow the onscreen instructions.

How to dispose of your computer

To avoid all those toxins ending up in a landfill, the better choice is to recycle, donate, trade-in or sell your computer.

Recycling your computer

If you opt to recycle it, keep in mind that some recyclers will simply take your old machine and ship it over to developing nations where children are often used to scavenge piles of e-waste looking for valuable components. To avoid contributing to this irresponsible practice, use a recycler that is part of the “e-Steward” network, meaning they don’t export to places like Pakistan or China, and they follow other high standards. Many of them also will reuse and refurbish electronics. The Electronic TakeBack Coalition offers tips for other ways to responsibly offload your electronics if one isn’t located near you.

Trading-in your computer

As for trading in your PC or laptop, there are scads of companies that offer trade-in programs through which you can sell a wide assortment of used electronics. A few options include BestBuy.com, Gazelle.com and the Amazon Trade-In program. Your local Best Buy also has trade-in options, but compare what it offers against the online services first.

Better Business Bureau Malware/Phishing Scam

Malware Phishing Scam that appears to be from the Better Business Bureau.

Reprinted with permission from Paul Wagner. http://www.avwebmaster.com/blog
See notes from The Tech Gods at the bottom.

Posted on  by 

NOTE:  This morning, Monday, February 25th, 2013, scammers launched a a new phishing campaign.  This campaign involves emails sent to consumers and business owners, with a claim that the recipient has been the subject of a complaint filed with the New York City BBB. But these emails are being fed around the country.

The emails carry a dangerous virus.  These emails did NOT come from BBB.  Please read below for further cautionary information:

Here’s how it reads:

Thank you for contacting the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

6QBT126CThe Better Business Bureau has received the above-referenced  complaint from one of your customers regarding their dealings with you.  The details of the consumer’s concern are included on the reverse

You may have received an email that says your company is the subject of a complaint filed with BBB, or claims that a customer review about your business has been posted, or asks that you complete a BBB business questionnaire. It may reference a case number or it may be vague on the details.

(and so on)

These emails are going to both individuals AND companies.  In each case, they ask you to click on a link that appears to go to a BBB page, or you are asked to download an attached form or file.

These are very dangerous emails.  It is important that you do NOT click on any of the links in the emails or download any attachments.

If you have already clicked on a link or have already opened or downloaded any attachments, your computer may have, without your knowing it, downloaded a stealthy malware program which is able to pass by most anti-virus programs undetected.

In the event you clicked on a link, you should consider having your computer scanned by a trusted computer repair professional to see if any malware is present and, if so, can be removed.

If you did not click on any links or attachments, you are still strongly encouraged to run a complete virus scan on your system.

You can learn more about these bogus phishing and malware scams at http://www.bbb.org/us/article/email-phishing-scam-hijacks-bbb-name-again-36089.

In the future, if you receive an email that appears to come from Better Business Bureau, please check with your local BBB office to determine whether it is legitimate.

A simple technique is to reply back to them with the following request: “Sorry – can’t open the zip file. Please resend as PDF or Word DOC.” Then you’ll know it’s bogus if it comes back to you with a Mail Daemon (with valid information from the Better Business Bureau).

You can find your local BBB office by visiting http://www.bbb.org/find.  You can also forward the email to phishing@council.bbb.org for assistance.

Notes from The Tech Gods:

This particular type of scam has been around for quite some time in different forms. Examples include e-mails telling of found money, Fed Ex packages that couldn’t be delivered, and fraudulent credit card charges. The bottom line is that users need to become more suspicious of e-mails they do not recognize. Tell-tale signs of scams are poor grammar, bad spelling, and improper capitalization, as well as attachments with unusual extensions and non-descriptive names.

Remember that reputable companies and agencies will never make you download something from an e-mail unless you know about it beforehand. An example of a known download might be a .pdf file from your printer with a proof of your business cards or a sign you’re having made. You may also receive e-mails with attachments from your insurance agent or your lawyer. You will definitely know about it and know that it’s safe before a company or agency sends you something that you need to download. If it looks suspicious, it probably is. If you have any doubts, you should always circumvent what the e-mail is trying to get you to download or click on by instead calling the company referenced or sending that company an e-mail independently to inquire further.

Paul makes a good point about replying to the e-mail and saying you’re having trouble opening it — the downside to this is that it may expose your e-mail address to further spam. Every business and even personal users should have spam filters in place to filter out the most prevalent spam. We can help you set this up on your business or home computers.

Additionally, even if you don’t think you’ve been exposed to virulent or infectious activity on your PC, you should make a habit of running virus and malware scans regularly — once a week if possible, once a month at worst. Our techs are well-educated and know what to click and what not to click, and yet we still get infections from time to time. Even the best software catch everything every time, however, we highly recommend the following scanners:

Virus Scanners:
(Choose ONLY one)

Microsoft Security Essentials
AVG Free

Malware/Spyware Scanners:
(Can be run concurrently)

Superantispyware
Malwarebytes

As these are all free products, we offer installation of these free to our customers, or you can Google any of the names above and install them yourself. We generally do not recommend products by Norton or McAfee, as they have proven over the years to be very bloated pieces of software that tend to lock down computers and keep them from performing every day tasks. We need our computers to work for us, not against us, so we recommend the products above. They not only work well, but are completely free to use. As stated earlier, none of these can keep you completely safe from all infections — the best defense you have is an informed user. The second best defense you have is a good tech guy, so don’t just pray to The Tech Gods — call us directly. 661-524-5140.

How to Make your Computer Run Faster using Performance Mode

One of the quickest and easiest things anyone can do to make their windows-based computer faster is to set the computer to “Performance Mode”. From the factory, computers are set to look pretty – not necessarily be the fastest they can be. They come with cutesy animated windows with smooth round corners that show you their contents as you drag and resize them. All of this is great for the user-impression of the Windows Operating System, but none of it does anything good for performance. In a business, where time is money, the best thing you can do to your computers to increase the productivity of your employees is to set Windows to Performance Mode.

This may sound complicated, but it literally takes seconds and makes a night-and-day difference to the performance of your computer. Best of all, it’s completely and totally free, and if you’re unhappy with the results, you can revert back very easily.

Performance1

1) Click on the Start button and Right-click on Computer.

Windows XP users will have My Computer, and in the rare instances where it’s not found in the Start menu, it can usually be found on the desktop.

When the Right-click menu appears, click Properties as shown in the picture to the left.

 

 

 

 

Performance2

 

2) Click Advanced System Settings on a Windows 7/Vista computer.

On Windows XP, you will already be looking at the advanced screen.

 

 

Performance3

 

3) On the screen that appears next, choose the Advanced Tab and click the Settings button under the Performance heading.

 

 

Performance4

4) At this point you’ll most likely find that your computer is set to Let Windows Choose What’s Best for My Computer. This is a poor choice for business, as Windows will always choose what makes it look the best, and not necessarily what makes it perform the best.

Sorry, but in my world, performance is far more important.

Choose Adjust for Best Performance which will clear ALL of the check boxes below.

 

 

5) If your goal is to have the absolute best performing computer you can have, and you don’t care about cosmetics, you can skip this step. However, over the years we’ve found that there are 4 options that still allow for a high-performance user experience while keeping the cosmetic features users miss most when they’re gone.

 

Performance5
The 4 options to check are:

  • Show thumbnails instead of icons
  • Smooth edges of screen fonts
  • Use drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop
  • Use visual styles on windows and buttons

Select the 4 options above  and click Apply.

Don’t hit OK just yet – we have more to do here.

BTW, Windows XP users will only have 3 options to check, and Show Thumbnails instead of Icons didn’t come around until Windows Vista.

Performance6
6) You’ll notice a few changes immediately, but most of the changes will be transparent.

You won’t notice them but you’ll surely notice the increase in speed.

We need to do one last thing before we close out of this screen.

Click the Advanced tab on the same window that’s already open (Performance Options).

 

Performance77) Click the “Change” button under Virtual Memory.

Windows 7 and Vista users will want the top check box to be checked, as in the picture below.

Windows XP users will want to check the radio button in the middle that says System Managed Size. Both accomplish the same thing. This really helps some older programs utilize your computer’s memory to the fullest potential.

Hit OK, and it will ask you to reboot.

That’s it! That’s the easiest thing you can do to increase productivity on workplace computers. It makes a huge difference in performance speed, with a minimal decrease in cosmetic features built into Windows platforms.

After all, you bought this computer as a tool, not a work of art – wouldn’t you want it running as fast as it can be?

Happy computing!