How Photocopiers Can Be Used for Identity Theft & 3 Tips to Protect Yourself

published Apr 20, 2016
1 min read

Photocopier Identity Theft

Are Your Personal Information Safe?

In the United Kingdom, identity fraud affects nearly 2 million people and costs billions of pounds each year. Personal data can be stolen in a lot of different ways. While some instances of data breaches by hackers are highly publicised, the vast majority of cases are a lot more mundane: documents can be taken from rubbish baskets, or a picture can easily be snapped with a smartphone when sensitive information are left out in the open.

Digital information can be particularly vulnerable to unauthorised access. Most people are aware that you should wipe your computer’s hard drive before selling or passing it on to someone else.

But what about photocopiers? They are often used to copy sensitive information, such as passports, medical records, and other documents you certainly don’t want falling into the wrong hands. Is there any chance of that happening?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Most modern copiers are multifunction devices (MFDs) that are able to print, scan and fax in addition to copying. These devices are capable of functioning without a computer, and are essentially a type of computer themselves, complete with a processor and some kind of storage, such as a hard disk drive or flash memory.

This storage is necessary in order to enable multitasking (processing multiple print/scan/copy jobs at once). This multi-functionality can improve your productivity, but the catch is that it can enable anyone to access virtually everything you’ve ever scanned, printed or copied, if they know how.

How to Protect Yourself

This security concern caused by storage of documents on copier hard drives was widely reported in 2010. Since then, manufacturers have taken steps to alleviate the issue. Nowadays, most copiers and multifunction devices that use hard disk drives for storage have an “image overwrite” feature that destroys the copied image immediately.

However, if your copier does not have this feature (which is likely if it’s an older machine), you may still be at risk. So what should you do to avoid falling victim to identity theft or otherwise having your security compromised?

Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Make sure your hard disk data encryption is enabled
  • Use secure document release (a feature that hides print jobs until a password is entered on the device’s touchscreen)
  • Before you sell or dispose of your used photocopier, delete all information on the hard drive at the end of the copier’s life

Most manufacturers provide exact instructions on how to accomplish these tasks. Check the manual, and always make sure to wipe all stored data before you get rid of the device!