How to Wipe Your Phone Before Selling or Trading It In

With so many smartphone choices on the market today, it’s no wonder that 44% of smartphone users choose to upgrade or trade in their phone as soon as their contract allows. Manufacturers seem to be in a smartphone arms race which in turn gives you, the consumer, plenty of options. If you’re in the market for a new smartphone you’ll want to wipe your phone clean before trading your old device in, but does tapping the “factory reset” button truly permanently remove your data?

Our smartphones go everywhere with us and are privy to some of our most sensitive information. Private emails, text messages, contact information, and financial details can all be easily accessed from a mobile phone and it could be detrimental if this info ended up in the wrong hands. While most smartphone users perform a factory reset before trading in or selling their phone, it’s still fairly easy to recover sensitive information off of a factory reset device using everyday recovery software. This is because when a smartphone is reset, it deletes the addresses of all your data, so the device no longer knows where it is stored- it does NOT overwrite your data.

To help keep your data safe when swapping smartphones, consider taking the following precautions. Please note that the following steps are for Android smartphones only.

  1. Encrypt Your Data
    Most of us password protect access to our phones via the lock screen, so why not protect the data stored on your phone as well? This means that anyone attempting to recover data from your phone will need a special key or password to decrypt it.

    The steps for encrypting your data can vary slightly depending on the model of phone you own, but this can generally be found in Settings>Security>Encrypt Phone on any Android phone (for iPhone users, it can be found in Settings>Passcode). You may have the option to encrypt your SD card as well, but if you’re trading in your phone you’ll want to just remove it from the device completely.

  2. Factory Reset Protection
    Android 5.0 Lollipop introduced Factory Reset Protection as an extra measure to stop thieves from being able to steal your phone, wipe it, and use or sell it. When you factory reset a phone with FRP enabled, it will prompt the next user to enter the username and password for the last Google account that was registered on that device. If the person trying to access the phone doesn’t have those details, it’ll remain locked.

    If you’re attempting to trade in or sell your phone, you’ll want to disable FRP and then perform a factory reset. Here’s how to disable FRP:

    1. This step varies slightly depending on your phone, but you’re looking to turn off your Lock Screen. This can generally be done by going to Settings>Security>Lock Screen and turning the lock screen setting to Off or
    2. Next, you’ll want to completely remove your Google account from your device. Once again, this varies depending on your phone, but it can generally be done by going to Settings>Accounts>Google and tapping If you have multiple Google accounts registered to your device, be sure to remove all of them!
  3. Factory Reset Your Phone
    Now that you’ve removed your Google account(s) from your phone, you can now perform the Factory Reset. Make sure that you’ve backed up anything you want to save and go to Settings>Backup & Reset > Factory Data Reset. Once the process is done, your phone will be wiped and any data that could be recovered will be encrypted.

If you’re looking for extra protection, you could overwrite your phone with junk data (such as a few large video files or useless images) until your storage is full, and then perform the factory reset. Still, this is usually unnecessary. There are also a handful of apps that will clear your data or overwrite your phone with junk data to help with the reset process, but you’ll want to make sure these apps don’t store or the data they claim to be overwriting.

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