May 2010

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Today, this morning, I bought a 350Gb external hard drive at a yard sale for $6. The housing was badly cracked and the power cord was missing. The seller claimed that she didn’t know if it worked or not, but that she had no use for it in any event. I took it home, pulled it from the damaged case, found a compatible power supply from my geeky collection, hooked it to my computer, and had a surprise.

Not only did it work, but buried in the drive’s directory was a complete back-up of 5 year’s worth of detailed financial records: their investment club accounts, Ebay transactions, mortgage paperwork, rental agreements, E-Trade account back-ups, automobile sales transaction records, etc. In short, a complete assessment of their entire financial lives over at least the last five years; a brutal resource for any identity thief.

Of course, my own moral code prevents me from taking criminal advantage of this information. The real dilemma, for me, is how to proceed. Should I wipe the drive and never speak of it? Should I go back to the seller and return it? Should I let them know that I wiped the drive? Should I give them an opportunity to recover the information if it is still valuable to them?

Ignorance is bliss, but if some family member later recalls that there might have been a ridiculous breach of security in that innocent sale, perhaps some communication now might save their sanity later.  Further com pounding the dilemma is the fact that the seller is someone socially acquainted with my ladyfriend; we are not close friends, but neither are we complete strangers.

My ladyfriend seems to feel that communicating with them now might just add unnecessary stress and and worry to a situation that would be easily preempted by an otherwise silent and anonymous deletion of the drive.

What would you do?