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How Copy Machines Can Contribute to Identity Theft

By Edited Mar 30, 2016 3 7
Throw away that copier!
Credit: Jon Rawlinson on Flickr/CC BY 2.0 with Attribution

What You Need to Know About Copy Machines

Identity theft is an issue that has become more prominent in recent years. Identity thieves feast off of the tidbits of valuable information they are able to glean in various corners of the web or even from trash cans. In the virtual world, high emphasis is placed on using firewalls, anti-virus software, strong passwords and encryption, and all of these are important considerations, however there is one other digital device often neglected - the copy machine.

Copy Machines and Identity Theft

Copiers are one of those machines that are likely taken for granted and generally not considered as an avenue for identity theft. As society goes digital, thieves looking to pilfer information with intentions to commit identity theft do not have to look much further than purchasing or accessing a copy machine.

Experts warn you can be at significant risk, much of what you cannot control, from the widespread use of photocopiers. Consider the many places copiers are used. In the home, office, local copy shop, library, doctor's offices, government agencies, schools, or anywhere else that replicates documents for various reasons. Modern copiers possess individual hard drives, and are often linked to networks to transmit information.

Frank Abagnale, an expert on fraud and ID issues, recommends scrubbing or encrypting copier hard drives. 5 If a business disposes of one without considering the data on it, the results can be disastrous for both the company/agency and the customers/clients.

Copy machine
Credit: Plus903/Creative Commons-Attribution/Share Alike

Did You Know Others Can Put Your Identity at Risk?

Companies that do not properly password protect, erase or, eventually dispose, of the copier's hard drive essentially put their clients, customers, or employees at risk. Experts say copy machines made in the time frame of 2002 - 2007 are primarily at risk to compromise information that has been sent through the machine for a reproduction, however, newer machines carry risks too.

As a CBS News investigation discovered in 2010, sensitive information from law enforcement agencies, contractors, medical facilities and more were downloaded off purchased copiers.1 An investment of $1,200 to purchase four machines resulted in a gold mine of data.

CBS also reported at the time, Ed McLaughlin, president of Sharp Imaging, admitted, "Yes, in general, the industry has failed." 3

Do People Realize the Risks?

A 2008 survey issued by Sharp learned that 60 percent of people in the U.S. have no idea copiers store images of the documents reproduced. Manufacturers do sell add-ons that will clean machines, but many companies do not want to absorb the additional costs.

Perhaps it is time the industry makes it part of the standard package?

The Daily Finance reported some companies are taking strides to rectify this serious issue. 4 However, ultimately this is beyond the control of any individual, and comes down to users learning how to protect copiers, just like they'd protect other computers or digital gadgets. More awareness is clearly needed all around.

Chances are some offices may have no idea they may be exposing the information of thousands of individuals and, in some instance breaking privacy laws such as HIPAA.  And, eventually, if blissfully unaware of the privacy risks, these offices might just unknowingly sell the information to someone else when they dispose of their copy machines. The CBS investigation noted two large shipments were headed to Argentina and Singapore, likely loaded with personal and sensitive data.

A good practice is to invest in your own copier, safeguard it and make your own copies whenever possible. Additionally, when you need to use an external copy machine, or know an office will be likely making copies of your personal information, ask about their privacy policies and, if they don't know educate them about the risks their copy machine carries.

Copy machines are handy devices, but are also a serious risk when it comes to data breaches and identity theft.



Jul 9, 2014 11:38am
Wow, I had no idea that photocopiers stored data - surely we need to make this known and have those add-ons in place to erase personal information, etc. Thumbing and pinning.
Jul 11, 2014 3:59am
I had never given it a thought until a couple of years ago when I started digging into digital privacy issues. So many things to think about these days! Thanks so much for reading and sharing.
Jul 11, 2014 3:59am
This comment has been deleted.
Jul 11, 2014 4:01am
(Whoops --- double posting! :)
Jul 12, 2014 9:08am
I had no idea photocopying could be risky! We make do with scanning and printing at home if we only have a few pages but anything in bulk is done elsewhere. One more thing to worry about!
Jul 13, 2014 2:04am
It seems today there are just so many things to think about we never had to before with these digital footprints! Thanks so much for reading and commenting.
Sep 1, 2014 3:51am
What an eye opener! Thanks for making us aware of the risks.
Sep 2, 2014 2:46am
Thanks Joyce for reading and commenting. It's hard to escape a digital footprint these days, but this I felt is one area not given enough attention in cyberspace.
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  1. "Copiers: Gold Mines for Identity Theft." CBS News. 8/02/2010. 2/07/2014 <Web >
  2. "Copy Machine Identity Theft It Could Happen To You!." Beyond Identity Theft. 2/07/2014 <Web >
  3. Armen Keteyian "Digital Photocopiers Loaded With Secrets." CBS Evening News. 19/04/2010. 2/07/2014 <Web >
  4. Tom Barlow "Older digital copiers can pose identity theft risks." Daily Finance. 07/05/2010. 2/07/2014 <Web >
  5. Frank Abagnale "5 Ways to Protect Your Identity." Intuit Accountants News Central. 13/05/2014. 12/11/2014 <Web >
  6. "Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule." U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS). 12/11/2014 <Web >

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