Tags: fax machine | type writer | identity theft

Your Old Fax Machine, Typewriter Worth a Mint to an ID Thief

Your Old Fax Machine, Typewriter Worth a Mint to an ID Thief

A job applicant's resume sits in a fax machine at an office May 7, 2003, in New York City. (Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

Friday, 17 February 2017 10:48 AM Current | Bio | Archive

When you think of an identity thief, do you picture Melissa McCarthy ripping off Jason Bateman in the movie “Identity Thief?” Do you think that the host of identity-related crimes she committed against him ran the gamut of what victims face every minute of every day of every year? Not even close.

Chances are good you know the basics about how to avoid getting “got” by identity thieves. For instance, you know you’re supposed to shred important documents, have long and strong passwords, avoid social network over-sharing, and properly secure your mobile devices. Unfortunately, you can do everything right, but still suffer the misfortune of having your sensitive personal data exposed because it happened to be on the wrong database at the wrong moment when the wrong person gained unauthorized access.   

A healthcare provider in Ohio, Community Mercy Health Partners, compromised the sensitive information of upwards of 113,000 patients just last year. Regardless of whether it was due to laziness, incompetence, or ignorance on the part of an employee, it doesn’t really matter. Bottom line: tens of thousands of medical records were left in a recycling bin. Files containing the names, Social Security numbers, medical information, dates of birth and other sensitive data of patients treated by Community Mercy Health Partners institutions was just sitting there waiting for a thief to find and snatch.

It’s been a few years now, but the case of the tell-tale typewriter is a cautionary tale when it comes to the hidden ways you can get “got” by creative crooks constantly looking for ways to crawl into your finances. An electric typewriter seized when identity theft suspects were arrested formed the “gotcha” for prosecutors. The typewriter ribbon had 400 names and Social Security numbers on it matching entries in notebooks also found on the premises, which included a number of people who all worked for the same company. That evidence helped the prosecution make their case.

It goes without saying that your personally identifiable information (PII) may well have passed through that old typewriter or thermal fax machine you donated, tossed, or sold a few years ago. Thermal-transfer fax machine film is burned with the equivalent of a carbon copy of all documents received, which could include tax documents, credit card numbers, personal health records and many other transmissions potentially containing PII.

So, before you drop off the old device you no longer need for recycling, throw it out or donate it to your nonprofit of choice, it’s important to make sure that you aren’t also setting up the circumstances for your own private data breach.

Think all this is hypothetical?

Linda and Bob Collins found out the hard way about the dangers of tossing an old fax machine without destroying the thermal transfer film: It landed them on television. It could have been worse. CBS News in Pittsburgh bought their old fax machine on Craigslist, and discovered — among other things — the couple’s tax records.

ABC News’s “7 on Your Side” went to Loudon County, VA a few years back after receiving a tip that the county was getting rid of typewriters with personally identifiable information on the ribbons — the information on those ribbons (and eraser ribbons) included names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers.

ABC was able to trace the origin of the typewriter to Loudon County’s Department of Mental Health. When they went to the surplus store where that machine was purchased, they found a sign saying that all hard drives had been removed from any PCs they offered. However, the reporter was able to purchase a typewriter with a ribbon that would warm the cockles of the most blackened identity thief’s heart.

Because you’re smart, it’s not a big shock that the equipment used by identity thieves to create fake IDs retains images of victim PII, but it’s not as easy to think like those criminals and stop data leaks in unthought-of places like pieces of old personal or business equipment.  

You can easily become an unwitting accomplice in a crime committed against yourself simply by discarding or disposing of something incorrectly.

So, remember: If it has a hard drive, you need to remove it before discarding or recycling old electronic equipment. This does not apply only to computers. Copy machines, printers and fax machines, scanners and still other devices have them too. If you’re not sure how to do the job, you can usually find a tutorial online. If you’re still stumped, call a repair person to help you.

If it has a ribbon or thermal film, remove it and shred or burn it.

In this day and age where the bad guys are literally sifting through every nook and cranny where personal information resides, it’s prudent to be paranoid, because they really are out to get you.

Adam K. Levin is a consumer advocate with more than 30 years of experience and is a nationally recognized expert on security, privacy, identity theft, fraud, and personal finance. A former Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Levin is chairman and founder of CyberScout and co-founder of Credit.com. Levin is the author of Amazon Best Seller "Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves." Read more of his reports — Go Here Now.

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It goes without saying that your personally identifiable information (PII) may well have passed through that old typewriter or thermal fax machine you donated, tossed, or sold a few years ago.
fax machine, type writer, identity theft
Friday, 17 February 2017 10:48 AM
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