Best Buy May Not Make Good On Promise To Delete Your Data Off That Returned Computer

A Best Buy customer in North Carolina is obviously not a regular reader of Consumerist. Otherwise, he probably would not have believed the Geek Squad geeks when they promised to delete all his personal info and data from the tablet he returned to Best Buy earlier this year.

Earlier this week, several months after bringing his Motorola Zoom tablet back to his local Best Buy, the man received an e-mail from another dude in Oklahoma who had purchased the refurbed device on, only to find some free bonus content.

“All his family pictures, his email, and it was logged into his Facebook account,” the buyer says.

When the original customer contacted Best Buy, he was reassured that the store did nothing wrong.

“He assured me that nothing like this could happen at all,” he tells WGHP-TV. “They have a four-stage process in how they handle this to delete everything and make sure this doesn’t happen. But it did.”

Wisely, the North Carolina customer has now changed all his passwords and account numbers.

“I had to change everything,” he says. “My whole life was on there. Imagine, if in the wrong hands, what somebody could do with that.”

The Oklahoma man who purchased the tablet from Woot says claims that Best Buy offered him a new tablet and a $200 gift card — if he can return the offending tablet to the original store. Instead, he’s working with the North Carolina fella to get the tablet back to him and his lawyer.

“I know it’s not necessarily company policy to admit fault and make apologies,” said Mr. Oklahoma (not his actual name; but a pretty cool name nonetheless), “but there’s still something they could have done than just dismissing his concern and then trying to call me and try and get the device back.”

Meanwhile, the guy whose personal info has apparently been floating around on an old tablet for several months says he went to the press so that others can learn from his story.

“Every day people bring back laptops, CPUs and cell phones and tablets, and we trust these companies to delete this information,” he tells WGHP.


Man’s Personal Information Left on Returned Tablet for Months []

Thanks to Al for the tip!


Edit Your Comment

  1. PunditGuy says:

    Erase your own goddamned data.

    • PunditGuy says:

      A half second of Googling reveals:

      Perform a factory reset using the settings menu

      To Perform a Reset:

      From the home screen, touch Apps
      Touch Settings
      Touch Privacy
      Touch Factory data reset
      Check the Erase USB storage box if you would like to erase all content stored.
      Touch Reset tablet and follow the onscreen instructions

    • caradrake says:

      This. If the information is something that you do not want others to have access to, take care of it yourself, don’t rely on others.

    • TheBear says:

      Lazy Fat Bastard

    • Sparkstalker says:

      It’s entirely possible the OP returned the Xoom because it was non-functional, and thus he couldn’t remove his data. It’s not like you can open a tablet at take the RAM chips out.

      And if this is the case, then Best Buy should also be exonerated, as they would have returned the unit to Motorola (unless they do the refurbishing themselves)

      • PunditGuy says:

        “Non-functional” covers a lot of territory. Wouldn’t boot? Could probably still do a hard reset with the recovery menu.

        • Scooter McGee says:

          The average user is not going to have any idea how to do a hard reset. Having rooted numerous Android phones, it comes easy to me, but those who just want the device because it’s cool are clueless.

          • PunditGuy says:

            This isn’t hidden or secret info. Let me help:

            With the device powered off, press the Power button to power the device on.
            When the Motorola logo appears press and hold the volume down key.
            When the Android recovery text appears (in the upper left), release the Volume down key then press the Volume up key.
            When the Android recovery screen (Android with exclamation point in a yellow triangle) appears, press and hold the Power button.
            While holding the Power button, press the Volume up key.
            Press the Volume down key to select wipe date / factory reset.
            Press the Power button.
            Press the Volume down key to select Yes — delete all user data.
            Press the Power button.
            Ensure reboot system now is selected then press the Power button.

            • Scooter McGee says:

              Where did I call it hidden or secret? I said those less technically savvy will have issues doing it. You’d be amazed how many people still don’t know how to use google. I would have found the solution with no problem. Many others, would not.

        • Sparkstalker says:

          As in the case of my original Nook Color, it wouldn’t power on at all…

    • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

      I just throw it in the shredder.

      Problem solved.

    • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

      I would have no clue how to fully wipe my cell phone. (I’m assuming that cell phone storage doesn’t REALLY delete things, similar to how computer hard drives work – if I’m wrong then feel free to call me dumb.)

      • viriiman says:

        All depends on the phone. However, you’d not only have to reload the OS but also completely fill up any free space to ensure everything is deleted.

    • incident_man says:

      Typical blame-the-customer vitriol. I work for a telecom and when a customer returns a device, it us UP TO US to make sure the customer’s data is completely wiped before we offer the unit for sale as a used device. The simple fact of the matter is that, with many devices, doing a “hard reset” does not guarantee that all data will be removed. I’ve done the same with my personal device and, lo and behold, there are still remnants of the old data. The only way is to wipe the device electronically and re-load the software image from scratch, which is problematic for a typical consumer.

      Worst Buy and the outfit from which the fellow in Oklahoma bought it share culpability in this one: they’re BOTH responsible for making sure the device does not have old data on it. If they can’t do that, then they have no business dealing in used devices……period!

      • PunditGuy says:

        I don’t know who you are or if you’re going to wipe my data or take information from my device. Why the hell would I give it to you full of information in the first place when a few seconds of perusing the manual or a few fewer seconds of Googling will tell me how to erase it?

        • Lyn Torden says:

          Very often, device malfunction PREVENTS the consumer from doing the deletion, even if he knows how, and even if he knows how to super-wipe it to be sure even hackers can’t dig it out (which is easy if all the consumer did was the obvious “delete”).

          It is the responsibility of both. But the consumer returning a defective or unusable device has to depend on that being done after the device is restored to functionality, or doing this to the flash memory parts after they are parted out, if other parts of the device cannot be repaired.

          • PunditGuy says:

            This is not a situation where someone ran a recovery algorithm to retrieve customer data. If the first guy had done a factory reset, the next guy would have merrily overwritten the old guy’s data repeatedly and been blissfully unaware that anything was amiss.

            Best Buy could have/should have done a factory reset as well, but I don’t understand why anyone would want to take a chance by handing all that info to a Geek Squad member anyway. Heck, I’m 99% sure they scan everything they get for porn, if not for bank accounts.

      • NotEd says:

        Woot is a known Deal-a-Day retailer who regularly sell refurbished items.
        I don’t really see them as being responsible for wiping the original customer’s info off the refurbished hardware, as refurb products are generally sold in sealed packages like new products.
        Would you want Amazon or Newegg messing around with a refurb TV or computer if you bought it from them?

      • IgnoramusEtIgnorabimus says:

        YOU must ALWAYS erase your own data. no company can assume that the 10$ an hour tech has a security clearance worth keeping unless you are a gov. contractor, in that case, the company is legally required to destroy the media, heck, 99% they are required to PHYSICALLY destroy the media and show proof of shredding

      • shanelee24 says:

        Not blame the customer vitriol at all. Have some sense as a customer vitriol maybe.

    • balderdashed says:

      To wipe a hard drive so that no one can later access your files is not that easy, even for the technically-savvy, and can take a very long time. When my employer asked me to erase the files on my IMac that was scheduled to be replaced, I zeroed out the data, which took most of the day. But our IT Department said that wasn’t good enough, and wanted at least a 7-pass erase, which takes seven times longer. I understand they did it, and it took most of a week. I’m not sure how I’d go about securely erasing the data on my personal laptop, as running the hard drive constantly over several days would almost certainly cause the drive to overheat and the computer to shut down — or worse.

      • IgnoramusEtIgnorabimus says:

        we do this at work as a SOP, you just need like a 30$ piece of software (some are even free but have to run in windows which we wouldn’t consider a safe bet). random garbage overwrite, also it should not take you more then 24 hours to do the highest milspec overwrite on any drive, it helps to have the software that can maximize the write rate

        • viriiman says:

          Boot and Nuke does it from a bootable CD and is free (as in air)

          • MrEvil says:

            We don’t even waste our time with DBAN at my workplace. We have so many old PCs to decommission We use a hard drive degauser. Not only scrambles the data, but makes the drives COMPLETELY inoperable because it mucks up the firmware tracks on the drives preventing them from properly initializing.

            • Ryan says:

              Executing the Secure Erase feature on the drive is more secure than the having the drive controller tell the drive to overwrite all of the sectors with zeroes. Secure Erase erases all the sectors and executes a number of additional functions like clearing the reallocated sector list that are not otherwise possible.

      • viriiman says:

        One pass is enough; see “The Great Zero Challenge”

    • kouotsu says:

      Have to agree with this, if it’s important, erase it. When you hand a device to Geek Squad, you’re handing it to someone making a tad over min. wage who may have been working there for a few years or a few days. Especially considering how easy it is to restore to factory settings on an Android tablet, why take any chances?

    • aleck says:

      “Wisely, the North Carolina customer has now changed all his passwords and account numbers.”

      If he is so wise, why he failed to read BB return policy. Or even stop and think for a second. All tablets have a one button reset functionality. Epic fail on his part.

  2. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    Uhm… if you’re returning an electronic device with data on it, why not delete it your own damned self?

  3. Cat says:

    Obligatory “blame OP” for buying at Best Buy, followed by obligatory “I delete all my own data at home” comment.

  4. The Lone Gunman says:

    Why did he not delete the information himself prior to returning the unit to Best Buy?

    It’s not that hard to do, nor is it particularly time-consuming. Lax consumer FAIL.

    • dush says:

      or at least at the time of turning it in ask to be shown how to delete the data.

    • tsukiotoshi says:

      This was my first thought as well, but then I thought about if this was my grandpa or one of my more technologically impaired aunts…they wouldn’t have the first idea how to do it or really know where to look to get the information.

  5. George4478 says:

    >>Every day people bring back laptops, CPUs and cell phones and tablets, and we trust these companies to delete this information,

    By ‘we’, you mean people other than me. I don’t trust ANYBODY to delete my data for me. The company isn’t hurt if they ‘forget’ or screw-up — I am, so I make sure my data is gone before I dispose of anything with a hard drive.

    • caradrake says:

      Yep. If I’m truly disposing of something, after the hard drive gets wiped, I take a hammer to it (but usually I keep the hard drives and dispose of the machine).

      It’s fun smashing the heck out of those things.

      • nugatory says:

        My favorite to this day, is to open the hard drive and remove the platters to use as drink coasters.

        FYI you need some specialist tools to do it properly as the they use very very small security torx screws (like T0 and T1).

        • LadyTL says:

          I dunno. I destroyed a bunch of hard drives on my internship with nothing but a hammer and flat head screwdriver. They wanted to make sure they were completely unusable ever again.

  6. Snoofin says:

    Why should a store be responsible for erasing a hard drive when a customer returns a unit. That should most definitely be the customer’s job if they don’t want to risk having data stolen. If they don’t know how to do it then they probably shouldn’t be buying a PC to begin with. This is one of those times where I wish you had to have a license to buy a PC and you only get the license after showing you have the proper skills to use it. Just like those stupid old people that cant figure out how to use the self checkout, if you dont know how to use it then go to a regular line instead of tying everyone else up.

    • Kaleey says:

      Actually, I would say that while it’s good practice for the customer to do this themselves, I would expect that anyone selling refub equipment should be required to reformat and reinstall, etc anyway, to get rid of any bugs that might be on the device.

      I’m sure there are cases (machine won’t boot up to erase data, screen is unusable and so data can’t be erased through normal non-geek methods) where the consumer CAN’T erase the data. As such, I think that when a device is returned and is to be resold, the company receiving the return should have a policy in place to erase/reset, regardless of whether the original owner did or not.

      I do find it funny that BB said “Not possible, never could happen, uh-uh,” and then immediately called Mr. Oklahoma and requested the item back. If it’s “impossible”, then they shouldn’t have any reason to call for the item – the a** in me wants to *force* them admit that it is not impossible, elsewise they would not be worried about it.

    • Sneeje says:

      Well, to be fair, the store said they would. But in the end, that isn’t an excuse. It is utterly foolish to place yourself at great risk by relying solely on another party to accomplish something when you do not have to. You’re just asking for s— to happen to you.

  7. missy070203 says:

    “The Oklahoma man who purchased the tablet from Woot says claims that Best Buy offered him a new tablet and a $200 gift card ‚Äî if he can return the offending tablet to the original store. Instead, he’s working with the North Carolina fella to get the tablet back to him and his lawyer.”

    I want to say kudos to this guy for not taking Best Buy’s dirty bribe and helping the wronged consumer…. maybe after the attorney goes to town with it Best Buy will stop acting like douche bags and be accountable?

    • Cat says:

      Best Buy will stop acting like douche bags and be accountable?

      Ha Ha!

    • El_Fez says:

      Accountable for what? Should a McDonalds employee accompany you to your table and cut your big mac into bite sized pieces so you don’t take too big a bite and choke to death?

      • Nikose says:

        Accountable for doing what they said they would do. Nothing more, nothing less.

        • El_Fez says:

          Yes, because I’m going to trust the minimum wage counter flunky with my entire life. Should they have done what they said they were going to? Of course. Am I going to put a loaded gun in their hands and hope they dont pull the trigger? No way!

          • Nikose says:

            Your first example wasn’t an accurate portrayal of what occured. Your followup to me was slightly more ‘on target’, but still an inflation. His facebook account, and potentially his bank accounts, were at risk. His life was not.

            And again, the company made a garauntee that they did not follow through on. While the backlash could have been dangerous to him, the key factor here [when you get past the entire “do it yourself” aspect], is that the service advertised was not provided. End point.

      • milk says:

        According to the article, “Geek Squad reassured him when he returned the tablet that they would wipe all the data on the device.” Though it’s unwise to trust them, they guaranteed a service yet did not provide it.

      • missy070203 says:

        more or less lying…. if you can’t promise your going to do something then don’t tell consumers that you will…. simple said….

    • hansolo247 says:

      For him to win anything there has to be damages. Are there some? Maybe? Is it an amount that would make hiring a lawyer even remotely worthwhile? doubt it.

      I’m not sure if there was any in this case, so if he wants to piss away money on a lawyer, that’s his right.

  8. El_Fez says:

    “Every day people bring back laptops, CPUs and cell phones and tablets, and we trust these companies to delete this information,”

    Wait – we do? Since when?

    • Dave B. says:

      The morons do, these are probably the same ones that send a check off to Joe in Nigeria every month till they get the money transfered to their supplied bank account by the son of a murdered prince.

  9. Cicadymn says:

    Well that was nice of the buyer to not only contact the guy and warn him, but also take steps to put the evidence back in his hands.

    Really cool.

    Also: Don’t most devices have a “return to factory default” or something of that nature that only takes a couple of seconds? Never trust Best Buy to protect you.

  10. May contain snark says:

    I agree he should have deleted his own data. Seriously. He couldn’t even be bothered to log out of Facebook? Kudos to Mr. Oklahoma for not posting an obligatory ” I

  11. MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

    Fine, fine, most of us here know better…but most of us probably also have a less-tech-savvy family member who would have taken Best Buy at their word rather than try to figure it out themselves. The point is, Best Buy said that it was impossible, their policy is that they always wipe user data, a consumer relied on that policy, and was only saved from being royally screwed because their former tablet happened to be resold to someone with scruples.

    • El_Fez says:

      Dude, my 75 year old mother – the one who couldn’t plug in a toaster to save her life – knows about making sure personal data is removed from computers before they are disposed of. Okay, she cant DO it – but she makes damn sure that I’ve rendered the hard drive inoperable first.

      If she can take appropriate steps, this guy can too.

      • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

        Good point…I should have said consumer-savvy, not tech-savvy. I know people who are very dear to me but who are only functional because of the efforts of their family and friends. You know, the kind who not only don’t think to wipe personal data, but pay with a credit card and walk away without the card. Often. Sure, it’s their fault in a way, but that doesn’t make it right to take advantage of that.

      • tsukiotoshi says:

        And I know for a fact my 83-year old grandfather would have no clue and wouldn’t ask us because he hates asking his kids or grandkids for help. He is also incredibly trusting and tends to believe whatever people say to him, which is why he keep a very close eye on him out of fear he will be scammed.

  12. MrMagoo is usually sarcastic says:

    What was the chain of custody from BestBuy to Woot? If it was refurbished, did it go back to Motorola? Why didn’t they clear the data?

  13. J-Purchase says:

    For those people that say he should’ve erased all of his data, there may be cases in which the unit fails such that they aren’t able to access their data in order to erase it (e.g. it won’t boot up at all).

    The store gets it, returns it to factory, they fix it and resell as refurb without having deleted said data.

    • framitz says:

      Having worked in manufacturing I know that actual defective units are usually scrapped.
      Units that work properly are wiped and resold as ‘refurbished’.
      It is NOT cost effective to repair these devices.

      I seriously doubt this unit was ever sent to the manufacturer, but was sold on by Best Buy.

      • IgnoramusEtIgnorabimus says:

        does not apply to moto, they rehoused my refurb phone but kept all the broken stuff and hoped I wouldn’t notice, the only ones they seem to scrap are the ones that are just entirely dead

  14. necrosis says:

    When I send computers out for service i always ask them if they need the HDD. Because I yank that SOB before I ship it out (unless the issue IS the HDD).

    Had one place say they needed the HDD in it. 2 hours with ghost and another hour zeroing it before I packed it up for shipment.

  15. JHDarkLeg says:

    At the Consumerist,

    If the business does something shady that contractually they were allowed to do: Blame the OP for not reading the contract.

    If the business doesn’t do something that contractually they were supposed to do: Blame the OP for expecting a company to follow the contract.

    or to simplify:

    If X: Blame the OP

    • Darury says:

      Where exactly was Best Buy contractually obligated to erase the data? I’m pretty sure when you return something there’s no contract that says they will make sure you’re not an idiot.

      • JHDarkLeg says:

        If a representative of Best Buy told a customer that the data would be erased, then that is a contract. I’d imagine the erase policy is also stated in their internal procedures and possibly in the return policy.

        If Consumerist has no problem with a company saying they will do X, and then not doing it, then I’m not sure why this site exists.

        • RedOryx says:

          You are confusing The Consumerist with The Consumerist Readers.

          The Consumerist does care, that’s why they posted this. Consumerist Readers, however, rightly believe there should be some personal responsibility. Even if you don’t know how to wipe a hard drive, log out of freaking FB for fuck’s sake.

    • George4478 says:

      So you have no problems with turning your “whole life” over to a clerk in an electronics store? You think it’s a good idea to give a complete stranger banking/credit card info, passwords, etc? You’re an advocate that this is OK and that you’d be willing to do the exact same thing as long as the clerk promises to follow store policy and delete the data?


      When the risk to the OP is so great and the solution is so simple, yeah, I put some of the blame on him when something goes wrong.

      • JHDarkLeg says:

        All of which are excellent points if this site was However at a site supposedly about the consumer, we should be more concerned that Best Buy stated they would erase the data, and then didn’t.

        Should the Consumerist not call out companies that fail to follow their own policies?

    • Jawaka says:

      Because customers have no responsibilities of their own right?

      I don’t feel that I blame the customer. I blame who I feel deserves to take blame. In most cases its both the company and the customer.

  16. framitz says:

    Only a complete fool would trust any repair facility to sanitize their data.
    Do it yourself or remove the drive and wipe in another machine. If you don’t have the skill set find a friend to help you.

  17. duffman13 says:

    OP deserves it. I hope he returns something else and gets identity thieved

  18. Hi_Hello says:

    hahahah. Hope this turn into a class action suit. OP screwed himself but Bestbuy should have not said they will erase if they don’t plan on erasing.

    What people should do when returning anything with a HD, erase it, load it with a bunch of porn and spyware/virus (if possible) then return it. Let the new customer go after the retailer for selling something with porn and spyware/virus :D

  19. maxhobbs says:

    Maybe his fingers are too fat to work the device? Maybe he was too busy eating a few dozen donuts?

    But seriously, how do guys that fat wipe their behinds? Hell, how do they tie their shoes?

  20. sgmax2 says:

    The last sentence says it all: “Every day people bring back laptops, CPUs and cell phones and tablets, and we trust these companies to delete this information.”

    Well the average person may do so. This is what we mean, when we talk about the digital divide.

  21. Guppy06 says:

    Open source software that wipes hard drives to DOD standards, among other available algorithms.

  22. PLATTWORX says:

    What fool returns a computer and doesn’t delete ALL personal information beforehand?
    He gave it to a Best Buy employee as a return loaded with family pictures and email?


  23. u1itn0w2day says:

    On one hand the OP should’ve made a greater effort to ensure that the data was removed but since Best Buy would the last person in possession of that information I consider them to blame for anything that happens after ward. To top it off why is Best Buy giving out tech with old information and possibly viruses etc on it. How well was this device checked before redistributing it.

  24. vastrightwing says:

    The headline should be: Best Buy May Not Make Good On ANY Promise

  25. Luke says:

    Customer should have deleted his data, it’s not that hard to erase all content and settings from a device. Geek Squad should have cleared the data. Best Buy uses dealtree to sell their refurbished items, the dealtree center should have wiped the data. A lot of parties at fault here.

  26. CurrentGeekSquadEmployee says:

    Just because I know how to wipe your data off your tablet, phone, laptop, etc., doesn’t mean it’s my responsibility. If you return your item and I give you money back or credit for it, that item is now mine to do with what I will.

    Now that said, I usually make it a point to remove customer data, just because I know it’s the right thing to do. A lot of stuff doesn’t get cleaned at the local stores, because it simply moves on to a refurbishing center, where it’s supposed to be taken care of.

  27. kobresia says:

    Someone I am acquainted with got rid of his old desktop computer. He wanted to make sure nobody would be able to steal any of the data on it, so he cut EVERY SINGLE WIRE in the machine. Power supply wires, data cables, power button and speaker wires, all of them.

    However, the HDD was still perfectly intact.

    Then there was an old Mac Quadra I found on the curb at the recycle center, illegally dumped. Its data had been “wiped” by screwing-up all the computer’s settings so that it was barely functional…it was, however, functional enough for me to correct the settings. It had Sim Farm installed on it, SCORE!

    Those are my funny “deleting your own data at home” anecdote.

    Most of my other stories involve computers I salvaged and found data on, which I wouldn’t do anything with but have a laugh and then dispose of, had no apparent efforts made on them to disable or purge the data. Like another one of the illegally-dumped computers that contained spanking porn and a bunch of other random stuff (and tax returns, whoops!). And the one that came from a land title company that had data I didn’t really care about, and the first 3 Duke Nukem games installed.

    As for me, I don’t trust anyone else to be competent enough to dispose of my data. Especially the dorks at Best Buy.

    That said, this is a mountain out of a molehill. So some stranger has photos of your family or access to your FACEBOOKS until you wise-up and change your password. Who cares? Almost anyone who comes into possession of such data is not going to do anything remotely criminal with it, and those who do have criminal intent with such things aren’t going to buy a bunch of expensive refurb stuff in hopes they might hit paydirt. The payout relative to effort is extremely poor, whereas if they hit a crappy business who can’t secure their servers, they can harvest hundreds or thousands of reasonably complete identities with relatively little effort per identity.

    • mearow says:

      I agree. I don’t see the big deal. New owner should delete everything and then be good to go. I bought a used laptop, it had tons of porn on it. Plus software registered to the previous owner. I reformatted the hard drive because I wanted to start fresh and put my applications and files on it. Those were the days when hard drive space was limited.

      I recently took my macbook to the Apple store for repair. Before taking it in, I backed it up and then reformated the hard drive and then reinstalled the OS to factory settings. 2 reasons, to see if 3rd party software was causing the problem and also not to have my personal files or settings in the wrong hands.

  28. Extended-Warranty says:

    I have a Best Buy receipt and the back says they are not responsible for data on returned devices.

    Why would you think it’s a good idea to return something with “your life” on it? Would you donate an old briefcase full of tax documents?

    I can tell you that no big business is going through all of their returns to remove data from them.

  29. Marilius says:

    Although not useful for a tablet, I simply don’t ever return or trade in hard drives. Saves me from that problem. I still have most of my old hard drives all the way back to my first PC. The ones I really didn’t need anymore, nothing destroys data better than a hammer.

  30. rlmiller007 says:

    Duh. and BTW just deleting it does nothing. I can recover the data in a few hours. You need to run softyware to remove the data.

  31. scottd34 says:

    If its that important to you to keep your data safe, then rtfm. Keeping his data out of other peoples hands clearly want important because he could have A) read the manual OR B) had the geek squad employee show him how to wipe the data in front of him at the store.

    I get calls from people occasionally about how to wipe their phones before they sell them or give them away. Im surprised but not surprised more people don’t think of removing their data before getting rid of their phones for sale or even warranty exchange.