National Consumer Protection Week 2015 takes place March 1-7. As part of this initiative, ITRC blogs this week will provide tips to protect consumers from scams, fraud, and identity theft. For more information about this yearly event, visit to find free materials from government and private organizations. Be an informed consumer; avoid scams and fraud!

Mobile devices are practically a way of life these days, with 90% of Americans reporting last year that they owned a cell phone and almost half of Americans reporting that they also owned a tablet. In fact, 44% of device owners claim they even sleep with their gadgets nearby, which is understandable in light of the increase in households that no longer opt to have regular telephone service.

Since these devices are so important to us, it’s easy to see why manufacturers and cellular service providers attempt to lure customers with incentives on newer, shinier, more capable smartphones and tablets. But if you choose to upgrade, what happens to your old device?

First, it’s important to understand that the electronic components in the device and its battery can be very harmful to the environment, especially if they leak into the ground water. If you’re getting rid of a mobile device, be sure to recycle it or donate it to a worthy cause that can put it to good use. You’ll be helping others while keeping poison out of our ecosystem.

But before you pass it on, there are some important safety considerations you must make. Remember, mobile devices are basically handheld computers, and in the wrong hands your personally identifiable information can be retrieved and used by a criminal. It’s not enough to just go into the settings and press “reset” on the phone or tablet, and depending on the brand, you may not be able to do anything about your information at all. According to an article for, “Identity theft expert Robert Siciliano did a little experiment with 30 devices he bought from Craigslist… Some people fell way short of doing even cursory cleaning. Even the mobile devices that had been ‘wiped’ were easily hacked.” The experiment resulted in finding bank account information, Social Security numbers, credit card information, and more.

Here are some steps Siciliano recommends you take in order to protect your information before discarding a device:

  • Back up the device before any procedure.
  • Download a remote wiping app.
  • Clear the internal memory.
  • Follow the manual factory reset instructions.
  • Get software that – among other things – includes a SIM card lock.
  • Record your phone’s unique ID number for future reference.


Of course, just because your old phone or tablet isn’t your daily-use device anymore doesn’t mean it’s useless. There are a wide variety of ways it can still be of service. Do you have child whose school has adopted a bring your own device (BYOD) initiative? Your old smartphone will still connect to the school’s wifi, even without a cellular plan. An old iPhone, Galaxy, or tablet will still function as an e-reader if you’ve got an app like the Amazon Kindle app or the B&N Nook app, or even the iBooks app that comes specifically with Apple devices. There are even more creative uses, like using the installed camera to function as a video baby monitor by viewing the images it projects over your wifi connection on your new device. However you choose to discard, donate, recycle, or re-purpose your old device, just be sure to protect both the environment and your personal data from harm.