People who don't know how to properly wipe a phone might assume that middlemen like Mills will wipe the phone as part of the reselling process. Clearly, however, not every phone dealer is as honest as Mills. And the fact that so many customers take such a nonchalant attitude toward clearing their phones before selling them to strangers means that there's a lot of low-hanging fruit for identity thieves and other people of dubious motives.
One critical thing to remember is that no regulatory body is forcing used-phone sellers to delete data. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, for instance, has issued only a guideline for wiping used phones. And although the Department of Defense has released a standard to wipe the hard drives of desktop computers, the DoD has no equivalent for smartphones. Unless you do your research, expecting another party to wipe your phone is like playing identity-theft roulette.
Your Smartphone Is an Accident Waiting to Happen
On a hot Saturday in Oakland, California, I wandered around the Coliseum flea market, passing stalls of fake MAC makeup and beat-up power tools, searching for used smartphones.
This particular Saturday I found what I was looking for almost immediately: a small table of BlackBerrys and Razrs of every color and shape, arranged neatly on an orange tablecloth.
As I was paying for a Samsung Rogue, I noticed a battered first-generation Motorola Droid. My heart skipped a beat: Three months before, my own Droid had been stolen, and all of the information with it. What if this phone was mine? Of course it wasn't, but I couldn't be sure until I haggled for it and brought it home. Just like the Rogue, this Droid had a drained battery; I wasn't even sure it would work if I did charge it up.
When I got home and charged the phones, I found so much information on both that I could have constructed an intricate portrait of each former owner's life in the month before the phone left their hands.
I had access to bank email, photos of family and friends, the nicknames the owners used for their parents--all for $60 and an afternoon at the flea market.