PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Nearly every business has a fax machine, so do plenty of homes.
If you use an older style fax machine– or you plan to sell or throw out an old fax machine, you could be putting your information at risk.
Some fax machines called thermal fax machines make a carbon copy of every document that you send or receive.
It’s so easy to retrieve that information– even a novice could steal your information.
“Oh yeah, not hard to uncover,” says Ned Eldridge, CEO of eLoop, one of the largest certified recyclers of e-waste in Pennsylvania.
His facilities handle a million pounds of e-waste each month. Some of the items coming through eLoop are thermal fax machines which are loaded with personal data.
“We got social security numbers, we got names, we got addresses, so if you wanted to pretend to be somebody you have all their personal information,” recalls Eldridge after he took apart a machine to look for data.
With thermal fax machines, all you need to do is open them up, and pull out an ink ribbon — then, you can read anything that went through the machine. Just like a carbon copy.
At eLoop, personal information gets destroyed, but when thermal fax machines get tossed in the trash or sold online to make a few bucks, that personal information can easily end up in the wrong hands.
To see what we could find, KDKA purchased several fax machines from Craig’s List — spending less than $20 on each. All of them had personal information.
On one machine — we hit the jackpot — names, addresses, social security numbers — all at our finger tips.
It had tax documents and financial statements.
“It’s pretty scary,” says Bob Collins, Linda’s husband. “It’s crazy that you can get all that information that easily, I mean you didn’t even have to work that hard to get it.”
The Collins’ thermal fax machine is just the type that identity thieves are looking for –cheap and easy to find as consumers try to get rid of them.
“I always wondered how they stole your identity. It’s like giving it to them,” says Linda.
How to protect yourself: If you have a thermal fax machine and you are going to sell it, take out the ribbon and shred it.
Or, you can take it to a facility like eLoop where they will destroy the data and recycle the machine.
But what if you are sending a fax and the person on the other end has one of these machines?
If someone wants you to send them something by fax — tell them to pick a different method that is more secure, like emailing a document.