Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

'Destroyed' Hard Drive Found At Flea Market 424

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the geek-squad-dark-sides dept.
Billosaur writes "From Yahoo News comes this tidbit about a couple who got a very shocking phone call. Henry and Roma Gerbus received a phone call from a man named Ed claiming he had purchased their old hard drive at a flea market. They had previously taken their computer to Best Buy to have the hard drive replaced and were told that the store would destroy it. Now it has turned up at a flea market, still containing their personal information, such as bank account numbers and Social Security numbers. The Gerbus' are a little perplexed and are very worried about identity theft."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

'Destroyed' Hard Drive Found At Flea Market

Comments Filter:
  • Scandalous! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ackthpt (218170) * on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:02PM (#15449483) Homepage Journal

    Memo to store managers throughout the country: "Rotate a new batch of minimum-wage slaves into all positions, which demand technical skills and adherence to moral and ethical code, post haste!"

    Gad! Whatever could motivate people who are compensated so well to scrap computers and sell parts at a flea market? I shall have to dwell further upon this great paradox this weekend at my summer cottage in the Hamptons.

    • Nothing deep here... just the Almighty American Dollar at work. The choice becomes making a few bucks at the flea market or paying a lot more bucks at the landfill. So... in the eyes of Wall Street... which one is better for the bottom line?

      I think the only "crime" here is that a special program wasn't used to erase the data. Then again, even the military has this problem.
    • Gad! Whatever could motivate people who are compensated so well to scrap computers and sell parts at a flea market?

      What could motivate them to sell it is one thiing, but what motivated them to sell it with the data on is surely harder to explain.

      Of course in a moment of doubt, always lean towards the simplest answer: the guy who did it was a really stupid mofo.
      • Re:Scandalous! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by imsabbel (611519) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:26PM (#15449639)
        Its quite easy.

        Erasing the data would have been work.
        Setting it up again to be able to sell it as a "working computer" would have been more work.

        Just taking it and selling it as is: minimum work.
      • Re:Scandalous! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ackthpt (218170) * on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:40PM (#15449712) Homepage Journal
        What could motivate them to sell it is one thiing, but what motivated them to sell it with the data on is surely harder to explain.

        You're assuming Best Buy sells off this scrap. In reality they should be turning it over to a disposal company (which, in theory, could sell the parts at flea market if not the most upstanding of ethical standards are adhered to.) But as the drive should have had Holes Drilled In it smells more like the monkey in charge of that job at BB chose not to, which strongly suggests it was they who pawned the drive, not corporate masters.

        Of course in a moment of doubt, always lean towards the simplest answer: the guy who did it was a really stupid mofo.

        Stupid, certainly. Unethical, most definitely. He or she should be sacked and then turned over to authorities for prosecution on theft, sale of stolen property, etc.

        • Not even holes drilled. A sledgehammer will render a disk unreadable to all but data recovery professionals in 99% of cases. And if you're the kind of person who has to worry about someone trying to recover data after that, then a solid degauss, drill and shatter the platters, degauss again and finally melt the pieces should thwart any data recovery attempt.
          • Re:Scandalous! (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Syrrh (700452)
            Kind of kills the resale value, dun'nit?

            Data destruction was not the problem. It was probably swiped by someone else in the store *thinking* it was a functional drive, and then hastily sold. Maybe it was the tech who actually worked on the system, but if the drive was crippled enough to need replacement it's doubtful he would have bothered taking it.
    • Re:Scandalous! (Score:5, Informative)

      by zuzulo (136299) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:32PM (#15449669) Homepage
      As a public service, links to three excellent, free, software based HDD wiping utilities. The first is even open source ...

      Darik's Boot and Nuke [sourceforge.net]
      Active Kill Disk [killdisk.com]
      PC Inspector [pcinspector.de]

      There should never be an excuse for selling or transfering ownership of a hard drive with pre-existing data when there are fast, free, and convienient utilities that can effectively remove all data without damaging HDD functionality. Physical destruction is of course, the most secure method of permanently wiping data, but for most folks good software based data destruction should be more than sufficient.

      Obligatory disclaimer: I am in no way associated with any of the above products except as a satisfied user.
      • Re:Scandalous! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mikerozh (710568)
        There should never be an excuse for selling or transfering ownership of a hard drive with pre-existing data when there are fast, free, and convienient utilities that can effectively remove all data without damaging HDD functionality. Physical destruction is of course, the most secure method of permanently wiping data, but for most folks good software based data destruction should be more than sufficient.

        This is true, but if your computer hardware dies in a way that the computer won't boot or power on at a

      • As a public service, links to three excellent, free, software based HDD wiping utilities.

        To be fair, they didn't want the disk wiped, they wanted it upgraded. They needed their existing information intact to be transferred over to the new HDD. Only *after* that procedure was completed, would they be ready to wipe the old HDD. Now at that point, with the old HDD out of the computer, no utilities (free or otherwise) will be able to wipe the drive. You and I can probably figure it out, but to them, it was
      • But then you have to reinstall Windows! A hard drive can't work without Windows after all...

        Or provide them with a CD of Ubuntu and tell them it's Windows Vista Linux Ubuntu :-)
    • Their motives were never in question. The motives of most criminals are usualy quite obvious. The perplexing thing in this case would be why Best Buy doesn't have safegaurds in place to prevent this sort of thing. And I certainly hope that, in your attempts at sarcasm, you weren't implying that making a low-wage somehow excuses criminal behaviour.
      • Low wage does not excuse criminal behavior. It does however do nothing to discourage people who are already willing to commit criminal behavior. I think that's the point he was trying to make.
      • it doesn't excuse it but it does increase the temptation.

        when your losing in life anyway (can't afford a decent life for you and your family) taking some risks to boost your income looks a lot more attractive than if you are already making a decent wage and comfortablly meeting your bills and having some disposable income each month

        .

    • Re:Scandalous! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kesuki (321456)
      Bizarre, When i brought my sister's POS into best buy they wouldn't even dispose of the bad dvd burner. Disposal apparently costs a considerable amount so policy by default is to return all defective parts to the 'owner' and have them dispose of it.

      Whatever could motivate people who are compensated so well to scrap computers and sell parts at a flea market?

      most likely someone who regularly sells at flea markets networked into a bunch of said stores and said 'if you want quick cash i'll buy junk computers fo
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:04PM (#15449495)
    Anyone that is taking a PC to Best Buy for a HDD replacement is probably sending money to Prince Abul Smith of Nigeria anyways.
  • by crummyname (977083) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:04PM (#15449503)
    If the information on the hard drive was so sensitive, why didn't the couple destroy it themselves? Even if Best Buy did destroy it, an employee would have had access to it anyway before its destruction. That's a security risk either way.
    • by ackthpt (218170) * on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:11PM (#15449545) Homepage Journal
      If the information on the hard drive was so sensitive, why didn't the couple destroy it themselves? Even if Best Buy did destroy it, an employee would have had access to it anyway before its destruction. That's a security risk either way.

      It's called: "Misplaced Trust in Corporate America"

      Why, just look at these words which follow, meant to calm and sooth the worried customer:

      "Our company values and places the utmost importance on maintaining the privacy of our customers. We will fully investigate these allegations."
      They no doubt came from some tome of boilerplate Corporate Communications and Public Relations.

      The real translation behind the scenes is doubtless anything less than a fast call to the law firm Best Buy retains to see how much they could be sued for and another call to the PR department to get the above phrase looked up in the Table of Contents and issued to media outlets. Meanwhile in the board room the executives are probably all bent over, like a circular conga-line holding covers over the arses of those in front of them.

      • An unscrupulous 18 year old, or thereabouts, who was trusted by a 30-something manager stole something of value, and lied about it. End of story. Saying Best Buy is responsible here is like holding Linus responsible for monetary loss that happened because someone with legitimate access to root decided he would start embezzling.
    • by Frogbert (589961) <[frogbert] [at] [gmail.com]> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:16PM (#15449580)
      Perhaps because they didn't know what a "hard drive" was, save for the box that came with their computer (the screen).
    • Because most of the people I do computer work for think their "hard drive" is the whole computer.
    • by sysadmn (29788) <sysadmn@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:02PM (#15449875) Homepage
      It's not at all unlikely they took a "broken" computer into Best Buy. Best Buy told them it was the hard drive (meaning it almost surely wasn't the hard drive), and replaced it for them. They asked about the old one, and were assured it would be destroyed. Would you have asked to take it home before reading this story?
      • by RESPAWN (153636)
        Would you have asked to take it home before reading this story?

        Nope, becuase I wouldn't have taken my computer to them in the first place. That said, the average computer user is completely ignorant about the actual innards of a computer, let alone how to wipe a drive clean (if their computer would even pass POST and allow them to boot off a floppy). Heck, they may not even be aware that there are discreet parts in the computer, one of which stores all of your data. To many people, the innards of a PC ar
    • Because they wanted all their data on their new hard drive.

      Somehow I doubt they'd be pleased to give Best Buy their Windows XP box with their applications and data + $$$ just to be handed back a computer with a big blank drive and no OS or a clean XP install.

      Their alternative was to back everything up and destroy the hard drive themselves. But then if they could do that they'd have fitted the drive themselves anyway.
    • how could they know to pull and destroy the drive themselves? if they were taking the machine to a Best Buy to get a new HDD, they probably are not comfortable opening the machine themselves.... and maybe did not know how to transfer all their data over. i do feel bad for them. especially considering the employee assured them the store had a drive destruction procedure. i guess some employee was making some easy cash with the old parts.

      my parents learned the same lesson when they traded in a car and were to
  • by Kesch (943326) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:06PM (#15449517)
    If you want something wiped correctly, smash it yourself.

    Even if Best Buy assured me they would destroy it, I would still grab a couple utilities to write nonsense bits onto the entire drive several times.

    Of course, my biggest question is who is silly enough to throw out working storage space? My inner packrat insists that precious Gigabytes should coveted.
    • Of course, my biggest question is who is silly enough to throw out working storage space? My inner packrat insists that precious Gigabytes should coveted.

      Packrat?

      Pfffft.

      I've only recently thrown out (destroyed) 150 Mb MFM drives.

      (though I do tend to save any 0.1" IDC jumpers on them).

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Even if Best Buy assured me they would destroy it, I would still grab a couple utilities to write nonsense bits onto the entire drive several times.

      So, you figure installing Windows 98 two or three times would fit the bill?
    • There comes a point where paying for the electricity (and heat output) costs for your 1 gig hard drive is just not worth it!
  • Why do people try to do physical things to "destroy" magnetic media. You would think that Best Buy would have some software to erase the data (writing random 0/1's repeatedly). I suppose if they were replacing the hard drive Best Buy might have figured it wouldn't work, but at least they should have used a strong magnetic field.
    • Magnetic media still can hold the ghost of bits held over a couple of overwrites- and that takes time.

      Drilling a hole(s) in the media or slagging it takes less of it and is dead certain to fubar what was on it.

      That's how the DoD and other serious government agency types declassify something computerized holding data that is classified Top Secret- you typically don't have time to erase it the right way when in a critical situation so you hit the drives with a thermite bomb, puncture it, etc.
    • Re:Drill Holes? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rabiddeity (941737)

      Why do people try to do physical things to "destroy" magnetic media?

      Ideally one should do both. If the data is really that important, write ones and zeroes over it, take the drive out, and physically mutilate it (with a sledgehammer, industrial shredder, slag-pool-at-the-end-of-Terminator-2, et cetera). With the right forensic tools, those with a lot of resources could still theoretically recover some data from a magnetically wiped or improperly degaussed drive. Same with one that's been broken into

  • Why (Score:5, Funny)

    by User 956 (568564) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:08PM (#15449528) Homepage
    Why would you pay a store to destroy something like a hard drive? Destroying it *yourself* is clearly way more fun.
    • And you get a really powerful magnet out of it!
    • While I was doing some volunteer work with Free Geek, a computer reuse and recycling group in Portland, Oregon, everyone want to do just that to the hard drives in donated computers. They had this huge sledgehammer... fun times.
  • by a_nonamiss (743253) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:08PM (#15449530)
    ...do it yourself [killdisk.com].
  • by syousef (465911) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:08PM (#15449531) Journal
    "I'm not leaving myself open to identity theft," said Gerbus.

    Quick! Close the barn door! The horse has bolted!

    If the drive was being destroyed the store had no reason not to hand it over. He should have asked for it, or at the very least asked to be present at it's destruction.
  • by TLouden (677335) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:11PM (#15449547)
    Isn't it just great when your comppetition fucks themselves for you, saves so much on PR.
  • Word of advice to anyone who doesn't do hardware themselves:

    If your HDD craters and the system doesn't recognize it as a boot disk and you can't reinstall your OS on the drive, take a magnet to it before you EVER hand it over to anyone/throw it away. If it has even a shred of personal information (which today, they all do) you need to give it a ride on the magical magnet train. It takes literally two seconds. There's nothing wrong with a little healthy paranoia.

    And here's another piece of advice: Find s
    • by swv3752 (187722) <swv3752 AT hotmail DOT com> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:40PM (#15449715) Homepage Journal
      So you are actually suggesting people open the hard drive and run a rare earth magnetic over the platters? Because anything short of an MRI is going to do jack squat to a modern hard drive. I have dropped a 1" cube nneodymiun magnet on a hard drive and it did nothing.

      I have had friends try erasing hard drives with a bulk tape eraser. One failed to spin up. The other two would boot up fine and still had all thier data.
      • Furtunatly, there are two rare earth magnetis in the drive, so you won't have to look for one!

        of course if it is open, just smash the platters.
    • You're speaking this to the slashdot crowd?

      I've never seen a better example for the phrase "Preaching to the choir" than this! Seriously. Someone who reads Slashdot who doesn't know what a hard drive is or how important privacy / data security is.

      Picket outside the Best Buy front enterance with this message and you might get somewhere!
    • A magnet? Sorry, nothing short of a 25lb sledge will destroy the data on a HDD platter.
    • by Tlosk (761023)
      You'd need a magnet far more powerful than most people have access to. Most people don't even know that there are two quite strong permanent magnets inside the drive itself used to control the motion of the head assemblies over the platters. I've taken drives apart from lots of vintages and while the platters get thinner (and once made of metal now made of a glass like substance), the support electronics get smaller and lighter, the magnets are always the same. And so strong that they can be difficult to re
  • Why do people (apparently) keep storing their social security numbers and bank account numbers in unencoded text files on their computers? Apparently it's the only thing people EVER store on their hard drives, judging from stories like these!

    I guess I better get started because right now I don't think my bank account number is on my computer anywhere....
  • by Sentri (910293)
    isn't so much with the people who unwittingly failed to be uber-1337 and erase and zero-fill and nonsense-fill their hard drive. They are non-technical people, its wrong to expect them to be able to predict this sort of occurence because they arent as paranoid (mostly because they dont know what could happen).

    So yeah, they dont know what they are doing. But the situation still shouldnt have occurred because frankly, best buy should do better than that. And if its not the companies failing but instead an ind
  • by digitalhermit (113459) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:36PM (#15449692) Homepage
    I send back, on average, one drive every few months under warranty. Most times the drives have failed so I can't even low-level format it. I've always wondered what happens to these drives. Are they destroyed? Re-used? As drives get bigger and more and more files are placed on them, it's not surprising that people may *think* the drives are clean when they are not. And I know it's easy to blame the folks for letting the drive out of their possession, but think about it: they were told it was to be destroyed; people put files on their drives (that's what they're for); if the store offered to "dispose" of their old PC (many places do this), there's a reasonable expectation (especially if they're told) that their data would be destroyed, if not the hardware.
    • Good question. I would like to know too. I guess people could encrypt their datas before their HDDs even have problems.
    • by sjames (1099)

      Most times the drives have failed so I can't even low-level format it.

      The last time I had a drive too screwed up to wipe that was under warranty, fortunatly a tech came onsite for the replacement (business). He agreed that since the drive was dead it would be OK to finish destroying it while he watched. I'm sure sandpaper on the platters followed by a propane torch placed any data recovery cost beyond the value of the data.

      It should be possible to arrange something like that for bad drives, much as bo

  • Three cheers for Corporate America!

    You know, people complain about this being a litigious society, but really, the reason is because law enforcement is doing NOTHING to pursue clear violations like this, which are happening more and more often.

    If companies didn't lie through their teeth, and do absolutely immoral activities like this one, we wouldn't NEED "tort reform"* in the first place.

    * Note: "tort reform" is the political code-word for eliminating your right to your day in court, even when companies ha
  • Former Employee.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jangell (633044) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:38PM (#15449702)
    As a former BestBuy/GeekSquad employee I can tell you that the company procedure was: 1.) Drill holes in hard drive. 2.) Send Computer to Best Buy Service Center to be discarded. When a customer would bring a computer in to be recycled I would open the cover with them standing there. I'd remove the hard drive and take a drill and put multiple 1/4 inch holes through the hard drive. I'd have the customer watch me do this and drill until they were happy. After that I would put the hard drive back into the computer and send it to a service center. 90% of your GeekSquad/BestBuy Employees have no idea what they are doing. They are also only getting paid $10 / hr. Don't expect much. There are one or two in each store that generally know more then you'd expect. But they are also only getting paid $10 / hr. If you want great service, It helps to have boobs. I'm not joking.
  • by itunes keith (900814) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:38PM (#15449703)
    I do not think this is the couple's fault at all. Best Buy supposedly was serviced to erase/destroy the hard drive. In a perfect world, people would take care of destroying their own data. Apparently, in this case, the couple seemingly didn't know how, so they hired Best Buy to take care of this - which is (usually) the next most responsible choice.
    • On the one hand, I agree with you: if you don't know how to destroy the drive yourself, you hire someone to do it for you; on the other hand, these people trusted Best Buy, fergodsake, which is culpable stupidity at least.
  • How many times have you seen hard drives for sale at a flea market?

    While Best Buy is still in the wrong, I think someone did some dumpster diving.

  • Might be worth it. Seriously.
  • Solution seems simple enough...request to get the old hard drive back along with the computer. Therefore you know where it is so it doesn't pop up later in the wrong hands. Because it's a hard drive, exceptions should be made with replacement. At my work, if we need a computer part replaced by Dell, we normally have to send the defective part back. HOWEVER, if that part is a hard drive, all we need to do is email a form back to them and we can keep the hard drive to be destroyed by us.
  • by E8086 (698978) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:13PM (#15449948)
    I've never sold off or threw out or RMAed any of my hard drives. I give them a few good software whipes and use as paperweights or get an external case and there's another backup drive.
    HDDs are around 50 cents or less per GB. Except those people who do their hardware shopping at BestBuy and arn't reading this.
    If you really have to get it replaced look for someone who will let you keep the platters and just send back some of it. If they exist, have to keep the "refurbished" industry in business.
  • by thogard (43403) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:44PM (#15450147) Homepage
    If I have a disk with a bad bearing or head crash, I have to send the drive back intact to claim my warranty and so I'm trusting my data to someone else. At work thats a violation of our security policy so we don't ever send disks back unless we are very sure what data was on it which effectively means drives that died within a few hours of being installed in a machine.

    What needs to happen is the S.M.A.R.T. software on the drive needs to be a bit smarter and allow the diagnostics tools to coordinate with the manufacturers web site so that the company is sure the disk is in fact defective and they know the cause. If they determine that they don't want the disk back anyway, then let the consumer dispose of it. If they can repair the disk, then its most likely not an internal problem so if its repairable, the data should still be on it when it gets back.
  • by caller9 (764851) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:16PM (#15450342)
    How did this thing end up at a flea market? I can think of a few scenarios where the BBY employee was unscrupulously selling broken or even working equipment at a flea market, but I kind-of doubt that. Not saying it's impossible just like to present a more likely scenario.

    This is the fast-food of computer repair so the guy probably took out the old drive which reported several bad sectors in scandisk, dropped it in the trash and forgot about it. Later that day/week a bum that regularly dives their dumpster for crap to sell at a flea market did his normal job. Some dude out for the cheapest possible hard drive buys it then looks to see what is on it, because he's a perv and expects amature porn. Then because he rode the short bus he calls the previous owner to admit guilt.

    Why is this hapless joe who accidentally mounted a hard drive then scoured it's contents closely enough to find social security numbers and the like guilty? It's like walking down a street and seeing a house with a door open. You can see the open door, and anything plainly visible from the street because of the open door. The second you walk through that door, you have trespassed.

    But forget that amature porn collector.

    Best Buy could solve all of this by issuing a 2lb hammer to all employees. It would help morale by providing an outlet for the rage incited by the latest management-speak directive from coorporate or the GM.
  • Nothing new (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DCheesi (150068) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:26PM (#15450402) Homepage
    Several years ago, the small company worked for used a local mom & pop outfit to buy & repair the office computers. This particular shop made a point of offering "great deals" on refurbished and used equipment. Of course we bought only the best, all-new PCs from them...

    Well, one cow-orker's HDD failed, and the aforementioned computer shop swapped it out for a new one. A little while later, we got a new employee in and ordered a new PC for him. When the "new" PC's C: drive was examined, it turned out to still have the first cow-orker's data on it!

    I don't know which was worse, the fact that sensitive company data had been potentially exposed, or the fact that they sold us a used, known-bad hard drive as new?!
  • Geek Squad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by amattas (978636) <anthony&mattas,net> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:29PM (#15450421) Homepage
    I actually used to work for the geeksquad and there was a lot of problems there, so I will list them. 1. Employees took parts from computers we threw out home, including hard drives, and the managers really didn't care. 2. Employees copied customers files from their computers onto the store computers (aka, found porn on the customers computers, often of customers or of the people they knew and kept it). 3. Employees often didn't fix problems completely because they thought it was too much work. 4. And to top it off, I often found managers browsing through the files that the employees kept and thought it was the coolest thing in the world.

"We are on the verge: Today our program proved Fermat's next-to-last theorem." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

Working...