Thumb drives are super convenient for saving old family photos or personal financial records, but what happens to all that data when you get rid of the drive? Even if you delete the information contained on the tiny device, is it ever really gone?
Inside Edition went on eBay and purchased 41 used thumb drives for just $50. The drives were then sent off to eForensix in Union, New Jersey for forensic analysis.
A quick search revealed a shocking 60% of the drives contained recoverable data, a virtual treasure trove of highly personal information.
"We found business documents. We found letters. We found family photos," John Lucich, president of eForensix, told Inside Edition.
On the drives was a whooping 20,000 personal photos, some showing young children. And that was just the beginning.
Shaofeng Zheng, an accounting professor in Chicago, was shocked when Inside Edition's Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero showed him a three-page document containing the username and password to every one of his financial accounts.
"That's my whole life!" he proclaimed.
"This is Bank of America. This is PayPal," Guerrero said, flipping through.
"Yes. And this is Amazon," Zheng said.
To do him a favor, Inside Edition shredded the documents.
Another discovery among the thumb drives? Risque images.
"This is homemade porn?" Guerrero asked Kristen Honeymar.
"Yup," she replied. "You got this from one of our thumb drives?"
"Yup because nothing is ever really deleted," she replied.
The drives contained hundreds of compromising photos.
But that wasn't the worst of it.
"What we found in this box is so bad we can't even show it to you," Lucich told Inside Edition.
It was a thumb drive filled with child pornography.
"It had about a dozen stills and it had one video on it of people we believe were 13 to 15 years of age," Lucich said.
That thumb drive was turned in to law enforcement officials.
Lucich said the finds showcase just how important it is to dispose of your data correctly.
"People have this idea that when you delete data it's being shredded into little pieces like it was being placed into a shredder, but it's not," he said.
You don't even have to be an expert to recover deleted data, Lucich warned.
"It’s a lot easier than you think. Anyone can go out and buy a software product for $20 or $30 dollars that will allow you to recover all this data," he said.
So what can you do to protect yourself and your family? There's only one really foolproof way to erase your personal information: Grab a hammer and smash any old thumb drives to bits.