Advertising your old, broken or outdated PC for auction on eBay could be putting key sensitive information up for sale.

UK consumer magazine Which? has warned that would-be identity thieves are scouring eBay, computer fairs, second-hand stores and even rubbish dumps in search of old computers with hard drives still attached in an attempt to recover thousands of personal files and pieces of sensitive information – even if the drive has already been formatted.

The problem has become so wide-spread that Which? has advised users to physically destroy any storage device before selling or discarding their PC.

Specialist software allows fraudsters to recover key information from a hard drive even if the former owner has taken the precaution of removing information from their storage device, potentially enabling them to uncover key information including personal files, passwords and email contact lists.

The cost of data recovery software and services has dropped considerably in recent years, with now readily available both online and in many major computer retailers, making it easier and cheaper for identity fraudsters to access seemingly deleted files.

“PCs contain more valuable personal information than ever as people increasingly shop online, use social networking sites and take digital photos,” said Sarah Kidner, editor of Which? Computing.

“Such information could bring identity thieves a hefty payday.”

“It sounds extreme, but the only way to be 100% safe is to smash your hard drive into smithereens.”

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