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Tuesday, 09 March 2010 00:00

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Office Copiers Can Present Identity Theft Risk

BOSTON (WBZ) -The dangers of identity theft are well-publicized. We've all been warned to shred our documents, be on the lookout for fishing scams and check our credit report regularly.

But there is a new potential threat to our identity lurking in warehouses across the country. We're talking about copy machines.

"Copy machines today are just like computers," explained Boston security expert Robert Siciliano. "They have hard drives and can store data that can be extracted."

Think about it. Your tax preparer, your mortgage broker, your doctor, chances are they have all made copies of documents containing your personal information. That means your social security number; your bank accounts and credit card information could all be sitting on a hard drive in an office copy machine. Most of us probably trust our accountant and our doctor but the real danger doesn't surface until one of those professionals decides to trade in the copier for a new one. The old one ends up on the used copier market.

There are massive warehouses across the country filled with hundreds if not thousands of used copiers that are up for sale. Companies are supposed to wipe the hard drives clean, but that does not always happen.

Security expert John Juntunen demonstrated how easy it is to access that information. Like any other buyer can do, Juntunen easily connected his laptop to a copy machine. Almost instantly, he is able to download or print whatever is on the hard drive. He found a child support document and an IRA application for a woman named Marilynn Boyd. Boyd's husband was stunned by what Juntunen found. "They have the address. They have the social security number. They have the date of birth. It's ridiculous," he said.

Juntunen found names and addresses on the hard drive of another used computer. Among the list of names was Caroline Kennedy along with her home and work phone number. In a statement, a spokesperson for Kennedy said she was surprised by the findings and was not aware of the potential danger.

"I think it's an issue that's going to have major ramifications," explained Juntunen's colleague Sean O'Leary. "I think it's going to hit like a ton of bricks when it does hit," he said.

There are privacy laws, particularly when it comes to medical records, but experts agree they are tough to enforce. The only way to protect yourself is to make sure anyone who handles your personal information is aware of the problem.

Many newer copiers now have security systems that help combat this problem, but that doesn't alleviate the issue for thousands of used copiers that are currently for sale.

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