How to Wipe Your Device Before Selling or Donating It

Be diligent about deleting the many layers of information you carry on your phone

Your new smartphone was made for you: It’s shiny, fast, functional and so much more fun than your old one, which was 11 months old and starting to show signs of gigabyte arthritis. Still, it still has plenty of life left and you’re willing to donate it out of the goodness of your heart (and the tax benefit). Or maybe you're trying to make a few bucks by selling it. Either way, you don’t want anyone to access your mobile banking transactions or text gaffes, hence your journey to learn how to wipe your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Don’t count on swiping a toggle in your settings to wipe your iPhone, Android device or iPad. Be wise with data deletions and don’t rely on a return to factory settings as a panacea for your protection.

Why you should be paranoid about wiping your phone

Identity theft expert Robert Siciliano did a little experiment with 30 devices he bought from Craigslist. He wanted to see just how savvy people were at wiping their devices before getting rid of them. He was bewildered by what he discovered. Some people fell way short of doing even cursory cleaning. Even the mobile devices that had been “wiped” were easily hacked. Siciliano found “bank account information, Social Security numbers, child support documents, credit card account logins and a host of other personal data.” Just because that was 2011 doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen to you today.

It’s harder than you think to securely delete cell phone data

If you want to wipe your device, all you have to do is take out the SIM and the microSD cards, right? Only if you want to change your middle name to “Rube.” Taking out the SIM card simply disrupts communication with the network. Smartphones are portable PCs. The internal memory holds way more data than your old flip phone did.

How to wipe your device

There are many things you can do to help minimize risk before you sell or donate your mobile device. If you want to wipe it completely, the following suggestions are a starting point:

  • Back up the device before any procedure.

  • Download a remote wiping app. Here are lists of popular apps for wiping iPhones and Android devices.

  • Clear the internal memory.

  • Follow the manual factory reset instructions.

  • Get software that – among other things – includes a SIM card lock.

  • Record your phone’s unique ID number for future reference.

For more complete instructions on how to delete cell phone data by type, follow these steps for iOs and these steps for wiping Android-based devices.

Be vigilant about your mobile security

If you’re like most people, you’re likely not taking care of mobile security like you should. Start now by taking basic steps to protect the information on your phone before it gets lost, stolen or you decide to place it on the great e-heap of misfit tech toys. For example, set a secure PIN and update your smartphone when security fixes are available. 

Remember that even by taking all the proper steps – and there are much more than the list above and vary device to device – it still may be more prudent to use your outdated smartphone, tablet or another mobile device for target practice or as a paperweight. Even “hobby hackers” can weasel their way through your wipe. Is your identity really worth a few bucks?

Find the right cybersecurity solution for you.