Copiers Could be Putting Sensitive Information at Risk

February 26, 2015

Updated: 02/23/2015 11:33 AM
Created: 02/19/2015 8:46 PM
By: Josh Rosenthal

Copy machines are in nearly every office around the world. Most of us use them without thinking twice, which is exactly what identity thieves are counting on.

Almost every time you make a copy, so does your copier.

Back in October, we got a tip. A computer expert told us nearly every copier has a hard drive, just like a computer, and it stores images of everything. So we responded to a Craigslist ad and got a copier for free. Then we took it to a computer forensics expert at LuciData in downtown Minneapolis.

What he found in less than 15 minutes shocked us all: sensitive information belonging to more than a dozen people, including names, addresses, social security numbers, W2s, credit reports, and thousands of dollars in copied checks.

“With the documents I found, a criminal could easily perpetrate some sort of identity theft against that person,” explained LuciData’s Chris Schulte.

The copier belonged to a financial company, based in Minneapolis. The owner refused to talk to us. He also expressed zero interest in telling his clients about the data breach.

When asked how often something like this happens, Schulte said, “well, how many copiers are in use?”

From there, we reached out to three major copier manufacturers. They said their copiers all have built-in security features. A spokesperson from Konica Minolta told us for some companies the security features started in 2010, when a national media report alerted many customers to the problem.

“After that story broke, customers were asking for hard drive security kits, and companies were scrambling to find (them),” Konica Minolta said.

Five years later, we wanted to see just how many Minnesotans knew about the problem. We got four more copiers off Craigslist, all from local businesses.

“I don’t think anybody even considers it,” said Tony Borner of Tony’s Appliance Inc. We didn’t find any data on Borner’s copier, but we were able to pull sensitive data off of two others, bringing our total to three data breaches from five copiers.

“If an identity thief ended up with these exact same five copiers, they would have literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of documents containing personal information,” Schulte said.

The fifth copier led to the largest haul: 662 documents, including 25 social security numbers and more than $130,000 in copied checks. We bought it from another financial company. The owner said he’s just too shocked and too embarrassed to comment.

So, here’s what you can do to protect your information: Schulte says if you’re going to get rid of an old copier, remove the storage device first. It could be a hard drive or a compact flash card. Either way, it’s replaceable so you could sell your copier without one. Also, if you’re in an office setting, talk to whoever services your copier. There’s a good chance it has security features that may just need to be turned on.

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