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Ready to donate my old cell phones, but not my personal info

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / April 19, 2013 8:56 AM PDT

Ready to donate my old cell phones, but not my personal info

I have a small collection of old cell phones in my house that I don't
use anymore. They range from old analog phones to a digital flip phones
to the first iPhone. There are some non-profit organizations in my town
that accept cell phone donations that state they will refurbish and
donate them to organizations in need, and if not usable, recycle them

I'd like to donate my phones to these organizations, if they can use
them. However, before I do that, I want to make sure all of my history
and personal information is wiped out. How can I do that? Adding to the
challenge is the fact that I can't find the power adapters for all of
the phones.

There was a newsletter of yours a while back on ways to recycle hard
drives for reuse. I'm looking for a similar solution, but for cell
phones. Thanks for any help.

--Submitted by Nate W.
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Not much you can do,,,,
by birdmantd Forum moderator / April 19, 2013 9:35 AM PDT

,,,,if you don't have the power cord to delete your stored data on the phone. Law enforcement and most non-profit organizations that accept phones typically use companies that will erase data stored on the devices. Can't exactly wipe the data like a computer in which the hard drive can be physically removed. It is a leap of faith and feel free to confirm with the recipient of your donation how they deal with old devices.

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Cell Phones For Soldiers
by stynor / April 19, 2013 11:17 AM PDT

Contact Cell Phones For Soldiers. You will get a pre-paid shipping label to ship your old cell phones for dismantling and recycling. In the process, CPFS will donate a 100 minute phone card to be used by a member of the U.S. Military overseas to call home. These people do not resell phones, they are a dismantling/recycling depot and they don't mess with bringing phones back to life. They instead sell the plastics, refine the precious metals and remove the toxics. Just remember to remove the old batteries and take them to a Home depot for recycling. They do not accept batteries. No cost to you, and you do a good thing for the environment and a military man/woman. When the phone is dismantled, your information is gone with it.

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Do you mean Cell Phones for Troops?
by dedanaw / April 27, 2013 6:24 AM PDT

I was excited to hear about Cell Phones for Soldiers but it appears that they are seeking phones that they can give to soldiers to use: (am I reading this wrong?). However, I found this site: - this seems to be closer to the dismantling/recycling process you mentioned or un-usable phones, though it does say they also resell phones that are still "usable." (See )

Can anyone clarify / correct me? I would like to donate a couple of phones that "died" for this cause but it makes me wary that just because they seem "dead" to me (no visual screen access, even though they appear to power up), doesn't mean that my contacts/texts/pics aren't still on there for some savvy technician to access.

Thanks much!

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Recycling Your Cell Phone

Thank you Nate for your responsible intentions regarding the recycling of your cell phones. I personally agree 100% with the post mentioning Cell Phones for Soldiers!!! It's a tremendous program that would seem to solve all of your issues.

For the ones that you do have power for, there should be a Master Reset Switch in the menu tree which you can activate to reset the phone to it's original condition. If you have an SD card in the phone you should remove it. You should also remove the SIM card from phones that use GSM technology.

I found this very informative website that covers all of the bases regarding your question for just about any cell phone you could imagine.

Thanks again for being kind to our planet.

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It's tough
by MightyDrakeC / April 19, 2013 4:43 PM PDT

I cracked the glass on my Samsung S3 Android device, so had to return it when I received my new one. I never did find a way to reset it back to factory default. I searched for an hour and tried a few different cookbook steps. None were entirely successful.

I ended up deleting everything I could manually. But, since it's flash memory, that means that only the pointers to it were deleted. The information itself is probably still in there.

For 99.99% of these kinds of situations, that's probably sufficient. It would take a moderately sophisticated snooper to even figure out the information is there, let alone dig that stuff out. And, if they get a high volume of phones, chances are they have easier targets to spend their time on.

YMMV. The security of deleting the information will vary from one device to the next.

Drake Christensen

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old phones
by asrobs. / April 19, 2013 8:42 PM PDT

would not the simple answer be to take out the chip since most people will just add their own anyway???

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by Nerosas / April 21, 2013 12:17 AM PDT
In reply to: old phones

Sometimes that works but that will not work if the contacts, texts etc have been saved to the internal memory of the phone, not to the SIM card.

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I would also add that not all phones have sim chips...
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / April 26, 2013 2:49 AM PDT
In reply to: Sometimes

especially the older style phones. It really depends on the carrier and the model of the phone.


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sim cards
by wdbintx / April 27, 2013 6:00 AM PDT

were common in cell phones used in europe when I spent alot of time there in the '90s, but my current phone only a few months old is the 1st I've had that has a sim card. Many of the newest phones do have sim cards, but I think a reasonable guess would be that more than 90% of cell phones ever sold in the US did not have sim cards.

For the phones with no adapter, if you want to take the time to do it, there is a good chance you can find one at the local Goodwill, DAV, Salvation Army store, etc.

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by caheomap / May 3, 2013 10:09 PM PDT
In reply to: sim cards

Thank you Nate for your responsible intentions regarding the recycling of your cell phones. I personally agree 100% with the post mentioning Cell Phones for Soldiers!!! It's a tremendous program that would seem to solve all of your issues.

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Old Cell Phone

Check with some of the local Motels or Hotel. They have lots of phone adapters.

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Thrift Shops and Flea Markets Carry Numerous Chargers . . .

. . . and might have a match for at least some of your phones. You can also try contacting the manufacturer, or post on Craig's List. Local sheriffs, etc. often accept phones for, e.g., abused women, where only 911 is accessible. But they'll still need a way to charge them. Good luck, and thank you for disposing responsibly.

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Need power, be skeptical
by OntheCoast / April 27, 2013 5:41 AM PDT

We have accepted and donated phones to womans' shelters for years. No power means no erasing. To get a phone back into shape, they need a power charger, and usually a new battery since you are getting rid of a used phone. As wonderful as the donation sounds, it costs our company $25-45 per phone on average to "donate" it. When we cannot find a power charger or battery, we drill the phone like you would a hard drive and then send it to recycle.
The data on the phones we receive is amazing. We accept AT&T, Verizon, Nextel, Sprint, Boost and all the weird off shoots and most prepaid. We no longer accept analog phones. You cannot even dial 911 on those.
Even if you erase your contacts, there seems to be some sort of flash memory that holds you recent call list and on some models, pictures and text messages. We simply dial each phone ten times to a number such as 555 and that almost always cleans it out. The rest is performed manually.
To my knowledge, there is no charity that has technicians with these abilities. It is not worth their time or the money it would take to keep a trained technician, so be skeptical if they say they wipe out everything. I have picked up phones in said stores and seen contacts, call history, pics and text, etc.
Do everything yourself or best, take it to a trained store and pay them a few dollars to wipe it for you.

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professional advice
by hogan / April 26, 2013 9:56 AM PDT
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Are any of the batteries interchangeable?
by ozark123 / April 26, 2013 10:10 AM PDT

Kind of a stretch but worth checking. Do any of the batteries in the phones that don't have chargers fit any of the phones that have chargers?

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donate old cellphone
by bigbelt / April 26, 2013 10:42 AM PDT

I would go to the shop where I buy or bought my new phone and ask them to transfer the data to my new phone
or give my old battery a boost so you can delete it

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Erasing your first iPhone before donating it.
by philb1701 / April 26, 2013 10:51 AM PDT

Assuming that your iPhone first gen still works, just use the USB cord and plug it into any computer with iTunes.
Once it sees it, just hit the RESTORE button and let it do it's thing. After it wipes out your content and reloads the most current iOS for it, unplug it and you are clean.

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Or take it to your provider
by cosmic52 / April 26, 2013 12:20 PM PDT

This doesn't help if you feel the need to donate the phones directly, but you can always bring the phone to your provider and they will recycle them. I brought a couple of old phones with extra batteries, cables, cases, etc. to a Verizon Wireless store last week. They have recycling bins in the store. I had wiped the data but I did ask and was told data was safe and all parts would be recycled responsibly. I would assume that the other providers do the same.

You can also take them to Best Buy and I think Radio Shack will recycle them too.

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(NT) goog
by tuanma8000 / April 26, 2013 1:00 PM PDT
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Have someone you know is in the military
by bc66 / April 26, 2013 2:26 PM PDT
In reply to: goog

I would have someone you know either a family or a friend who was in the military delete the data as they may have the know-how without the power adapters. The military can get very creative with inventions or innovations. Once they had done it, have them let you know and let you see that the data has been removed and then make the donation of the phones.

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Cell phones for soldiers
by devilwoman15 / April 26, 2013 2:42 PM PDT

The title says it all that is who I donate used phones to - they recycle the phones and then use the money to purchase phone cards for our soldiers. This enables them to call home to stay in touch without worrying about how to pay for it. You can look them up online and it will give you a list of where to drop your phones off. I work for the Army and I have the entire Arsenal where I work giving me phones.

They are based in Massachusetts and started by a brother and sister.

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Dont re-cycle that old cell phone..
by papa54 / April 26, 2013 4:32 PM PDT

why would any of us want to give away more of our hard earned cash.. theres GOLD in them cell phones. every strip and contact point is gold or gold plated.

it'd be nice if we had a way to get the gold melted off of the contacts and battery contact points but hey what the heck someday that cell phone may have enough gold in it to buy something money wont buy..
all the govt has to do is throw up its hands and say we quit we have no money.. look at all the paper money you have.. not one sheet of cloth (moneys on cloth not paper) is worth the paper its printed on. "we'll use paper as a reference from here out" .. now if anyone just has to throw away yer cell phones send them to me.. I'll open a PO Box and take all i can get... and hope i get hundreds maybe even thouosands of cell pphones..

think about it, when moneys worthless a small piece of gold will work in any country...

of course if we had a govt with some back bone ,, they'd jump in right now back to the Gold standard and make America debt free.. I guess they have to run that piece of gold more worth while to keep.. 5,000 an ounce .. wow a few flakes would take in high cotton.

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by jamminantivirus / April 26, 2013 10:47 PM PDT

It is refreshing, encouraging, and a plain good thing that so few people share your view of the world. Why would anyone pass up an easy opportunity to help someone in need, and choose instead to spend THEIR hard earned money on postage sending their phones to YOU?

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USB recharge
by chrisbood / April 26, 2013 6:30 PM PDT

If the phone could be connected to a PC than it will recharge slowly but surely. You may otherwise try a car cigarette lighter with multiple adapters (which are cheap and can be found anywhere). Good luck and bravo for thinking of recycling.

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RAM extraction
by atlcr / April 26, 2013 7:34 PM PDT
In reply to: USB recharge

Chrisbood has a valid point. The voltages, and their tolerance level, differ depending on the charger and the connector (cable). I have seen "dead" phones come to life when an appropriate voltage was applied via USB. It doesn't have to be USB. The point is that a computer acts as a voltage regulator in a sense. It queries the driver for device information and supplies the necessary volts. So a good first step with any phone that appears dead is to change things up. If you have it plugged into the wall and you get nothing, try plugging it into the computer with the USB cable that came with it (or another power source that supplies similiar voltage).

If that doesn't work, then your are faced with a dead phone unable to run software that people have suggested here. What do you do?

If you are planning on providing your old phone to a non-profit that will strip it apart anyway, why not pre-strip it? By this I mean that you can pull the memory chip off the circuit board. If this makes no sense to you, then please don't bother trying the next step. (unless you want to learn)

The memory chip is very obvious on most PCBs (the electronic board that all components and wires plug into). Do a Google search for your model first and foremost. With any luck, someone has already gone through the dificult stuff and laid it out in steps.

Once you find the RAM, then you can simply remove it. WARNING: This will leave your system inoperable! Only do this if you know that the recipient is going to strip it.

Once you have the RAM, it is up to you. You can put it in a safe or smash it with a hammer. Either way, when you have eliminated memory there is nothing that a computer can do, currently, to extrapolate any kind of information.

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Use a selectable voltage charger and adapters.
by thorrall / April 26, 2013 11:13 PM PDT

I have a charger with a switch on it that permits setting its output voltage. Coupled with a set of adapters available from Radio Schlock and other vendors, that permits a single inexpensive charger to power up virtually any phone so that its data can be removed. Just be sure that the charger is rated for adequate highest voltage and current. I find the adapter handy for a lot of things besides cell phones so its cost need not be thought of as lost after using it for the phone project.

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Deleting info on mobile phones
by awasawas / April 27, 2013 1:24 AM PDT

As suggested you can get a set of adapters and cable cheaply or donate to security . govt, police etc.
Will they access your info?
Anyway do not accept the restore to default settigs.

If you can connect to computer and should come up as external storage drive. Use one of the many deleting programmes. I think some freely available online or even your firewall/virus programme and use this to delete your info, preferably more than one pass.

I suggest you do this when selling your computer also.

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Try your carrier
by huegee / April 28, 2013 1:05 AM PDT

Take the phones back to the cell phone carrier. They have a lot of adapters that should fit all of your old phones. At least they could power them up and maybe help delete your personal information. Or they may have a battery that will fit the phone and borrow the battery long enough to power up and delete your info. On the old feature phones the only information stored are the contacts and that is mostly cell phone numbers that don't belong to your friends anymore.

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Addition suggestion from members....
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / April 29, 2013 1:53 AM PDT

Below are some members who emailed me answers directly instead of posting them here, so I'm going to post it for them as I think they will be helpful to Nate and others. Thanks all.

Here they are:

I didn't have the opportunity to respond to the query about donating old cellphones.

I suggest contacting one's local police or sheriff's department, and find out if they have the program where old cellphones are given to abused spouses. These phones have only one purpose: to dial 911. If they don't have the program, why not start one? As you know from experience, people have old cellphones just sitting around collecting dust. Get coverage in your local paper, and you'll most likely get inundated with them.

A local fire department might be willing to start a program. Nothing to lose by asking, and a battered spouse might live if one donates his or her old cellphone.

As for locating power cords, one might check at local thrift stores, or try posting a request to the local group. For years, I'd been acquiring phone cords. I ended up taking them to the county recycling center because no one off Freecycle wanted them.

Submitted by: Cappy


Every thrift store I have visited has boxes full of old adapters for sale at .25 to $1.00 each. Take your old phone to a trrift store and you'll probable find a workable adapter.

Submitted by: JJ


I just read your article about recycling old cell phones & I have a few great places for you to start. All Public Schools are a great source. I say "Public" vs Private because you might be dealing with more secrets to hide & that may be paranoid about odd things. Every Teacher & kid had one. They can turn it into a neighborhood project. Make it a contest to see which kid can bring in the most cell phones & chargers. The kid MUST have a note from the donor releasing the cell phone to the kid.

My late husband ran a short drive in our area from the Coast Guard Auxiliary, but most old folks are still using their precious flip phones--including me! We did fairly well & turned them over to the Police Dept to be cleaned, loaded with 30 minutes of talk time & given to Women in Distress in case of an Emergency.

Another good source is the Military. They are constantly changing up to better & newer equipment & are willing donors. Make sure everything has been deleted & they too. need a release from the former owners

Submitted by: Jeanne M.


Go to the phone service provider you had service with. They have the
equipment and Verizon, for example, would do it for you for free.

Submitted by: Jan L.

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Erasing old cells to donate
by glssldy57 / August 7, 2013 11:26 AM PDT

I agree also with chrisbood, but I was thinking it would be just as cheap as a USB cable to go to Walmart or the like, and just get another cheap charger that fits your phone. That way you can just delete what you want and forget about being traced. Also the sim card is a good idea too!

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