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Updated Jun 4, 2012 - 6:28 pm

Is personal information stored in my printer?

I have an old HP scanner/fax/printer. Is it true that it stores your personal info inside somewhere and you should remove it before getting rid of it? I called HP and they denied that; Help! - Julie

There are some cases where a printer could be storing lots of information about you, including hundreds of copies of previous items that you scanned or copied or any information that you input when you first setup your printer (name, fax number, etc.).

In order for your previous copy/scan jobs to have been stored, the printer would have to have an internal hard drive installed, which isn't something a consumer-grade printer usually has.

Unless you spent thousands of dollars on a commercial grade network copier/scanner/printer, you don't have to worry about your past copy/scan jobs as there won't be a hard drive that automatically stored what was sent to it. Corporate printer/copier/scanners use internal hard drives to store items that are copied or scanned for a variety of reasons that improve performance and reliability, especially for very large document scans or copy jobs.

Many stories have surfaced over the years of the ability to recover information from hard drives that were installed in commercial copier/scanners that contain a plethora of sensitive information.

We were asked by a local television station a couple of years ago to see what we could gather from a couple of corporate copier/scanners that were headed for recycling and within 15 minutes, we had payroll records from a large restaurant chain.

With this in mind, everyone should be careful what personal records you copy or scan at work, since you don't have any idea if the internal hard drive will be properly cleansed before it gets returned, sold or recycled.

Business owners should consider having the hard drive scrubbed or removed from their commercial copier/scanners before selling, returning or recycling it to help protect everyone that has ever used it.

On our home printers, this issue doesn't exist because the queuing is done via "volatile" storage, which is memory that gets flushed whenever we turn off our printer. It is possible, however, that you stored somewhat sensitive information when you first setup your device, especially if it has the ability to fax.

You can generally figure out what information of this nature might be stored in the printer by going to the printer's setup menu (it's different on every printer, so consult your owner's manual or the printer company's support website for specific instructions) and taking a look around.

If the printer is capable of storing any personal information (like your fax number, name, etc.), it will generally have a reset process that will put the printer back to the factory settings.

Most consumer all-in-one printers store the actual user information and the previously scanned/copied documents in the printer software on the computer instead of in the printer itself.

If you really want to understand what a third party can find on your printer, disconnect it from your computer and dig around the settings to see what you can find.

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