Wipe Wisely: How to Stay Safe When You Sell Your Phone

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I don’t know about you, but my phone is kind of like a best friend. Always there. Highly amusing. And I feel like I can tell it anything! I share juicy tidbits with friends and give my kids sage advice using SMS and Facebook Messenger. I send goofy memes that definitely reveal my political positions.

Then there’s the stuff my phone tells me: I get notice of banking transactions and credit card activity. I get calendar alerts that signal when I’ll be away from home.

I never loan my phone to anyone and keep it safely in my pocket. But all that data is ripe for the picking if my phone is lost or stolen, some of it in hidden places I wouldn’t even know where to find.

How about you? Do you treat your phone like a confidante?

If so, and you’re thinking of selling it for some extra cash, you’re going expose yourself to some security risks – unless you take all the steps necessary to wipe it clean. And I mean clean as a whistle. Squeaky clean. Sanitized.

What’s Hidden in Your Phone?

Let’s start with one fundamental fact. Delete doesn’t always mean delete. Sometimes the data you delete is just hidden from your view.

Depending on how you have your Facebook account set up, for example, that might be true of Facebook Messenger messages you send from your phone. If you’re set up to archive messages, rather than permanently delete them, you – or anyone who gets their hands on your phone can retrieve them.

And Messenger doesn’t make it easy to delete entire message threads.

You have to do it message by message. Oh, and you know how messages show up on your phone screen even when your phone is locked? If your phone is stolen, a thief can read them, too.

Once you’ve downloaded an app from the Apple Store or Google Play, a record of your purchase is still kept in the store you’re using. Anyone can restore an app, even without a passcode. And all of the information you previously kept in the app will be restored with it.

If you access your email account from your phone, messages that you’ve trashed may also still be retrievable. So remember to empty your trash frequently to make sure those messages are genuinely gone, not just stored in a folder.

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Is There a Super Wash Setting on Your Phone?

Unlike many digital tasks, we perform, cleaning your phone and making it safe for sale isn’t one-click-easy. If you want to exercise maximum caution, you’ll actually have to open up your phone, something many of us have never done.

Inside our phones, you’ll find two minuscule pieces store a megaton of data: the SIM card and the SD card. Ideally, before you sell your phone, you’ll remove both of these bits of silicon and metal.

Not comfortable doing it yourself?

Ask an Apple genius or sales rep at your local phone store to do it for you. It takes just a minute, and the phone pro will do it free of charge. You’ll want to back-up your data before removing your cards, of course. You can store it in the cloud, on a tablet, or any other device you have handy.

Don’t make the mistake of removing your contacts or photos manually because that will delete them from the cloud and make them irretrievable.

Next, use your phone’s internal features to anonymize your phone completely – the steps you’ll take vary, depending on whether you have an Android device or an iPhone. Log into the Apple or Google support page to find out how to restore your phone to its original factory settings. That step not only protects you, but it’s a courtesy your buyer will appreciate.

Nobody wants to spend extra time undoing your personal settings.

Preventive and Emergency Steps

If your phone is ever lost or stolen, the best course of action is to immediately use the Find My Phone feature that both Apple and Android offer. You can disable or erase your phone from there.

Of course, you’ll have to access the feature from your desktop – your phone is missing in action, right?

Have your username and passcode handy. Did we mention never to keep that information on your phone? Many people use notes to keep track of passwords, and that’s a really dangerous practice.

Security Tip:

Invest in a password manager or download one of the free ones instead. Keeping passwords on your phone opens you up to a world of hurt in the form of identity theft. Identity theft can quickly lead to having your bank accounts emptied and your credit destroyed.

Victims of identity theft often wind up paying attorneys and credit repair companies to undo the damage.

Boosting Your Phone’s Resale Value

Looks are almost everything. Obvious signs of wear and tear will deter buyers. So keep your phone in good shape by using a sturdy exterior case to protect it from dents and dings and a screen shield to banish unsightly scratches.

Buyers want choices, so if your phone is locked – that is, tied to a certain cellular carrier – unlock it. You’ve probably heard of Certified Pre-Owned Cars, which command a higher price than comparable used cars.

Well, you can also have your phone certified. Used phone certification companies will also do a professional “wipe” you can trust, which can save you time and give you greater peace of mind when you sell.

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