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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 14 Issue 12
December 2020
Getting Rid of Your Old Printer/Copier/Scanner/Fax? Do This First to Protect Your Privacy!

Quick summary
When your current printer needs to be replaced, if it’s also a scanner/copier/fax (multifunction or all-in-one), since many such printers retain a record of recent pages that they’ve processed (and fax numbers that you’ve called), in order to prevent an unauthorized person from retrieving and reprinting potentially confidential information, you should do a full or factory reset on it.
The technology
A multifunction printer, sometimes called an “all-in-one,” is a physical combination of:
  • An inkjet or laser printer,
  • A flatbed scanner,
  • Some also have a sheet-fed scanner or ADF (automatic document feeder),
  • And some also have a built-in fax machine.
Having a built-in scanner also enables this type of printer to serve as a copier.
Some models can print on both sides of the paper, and some ADFs can also scan both sides of an original.
Most have on-board memory that helps them operate more efficiently. For example, when scanning an original paper document or receiving a fax over your land-based telephone line, your multifunction printer will probably store one or more pages in its onboard memory before starting to print. Many will also keep a number of recent faxes, scans, copies (and possibly also regular printouts) in that memory, which is useful if a paper jam occurs, or if you need to print another copy later. For example, many lower-end multifunction printers from HP (Hewlett-Packard) will store up to 8 recent faxes, and higher-end models will store up to 30.
Simple, low-end printers (that do not also scan or fax) don’t typically store pages that you’ve printed, but a high-end printer might.
Multifunction printers that are also fax machines probably also store:
  • Your fax “header” information, which typically includes your name, your company’s name, and your fax number,
  • The phone numbers that you’ve recently dialed to send faxes, and
  • Your “speed dial list” or “favorites,” where you may have stored names and fax numbers that you dial more frequently.
The problem
If you sell your printer or dispose of it or recycle it, that data stored in your multifunction printer could lead to potential privacy problems or even identity theft. Since the contents of the printer’s onboard memory may remain even if after is powered off, if any of those recent faxes or scans contains private or confidential information (along with your stored and recently-dialed fax numbers), an unauthorized person who gets access to your printer after you’ve discarded it could reprint those documents and then exploit that information without your knowledge or consent.
This can happen in a number of ways, including:
  • When you dispose of your current multifunction printer, usually because you’ve bought a newer model.
  • If an unauthorized person gets access to your current multifunction printer without your knowledge.
What to do if you’re getting rid of your printer and it still works
Whether you’re going to donate it or dispose of it, if your multifunction printer still works, you should perform a “factory reset” (sometimes called a “hard reset” or “full reset”). That will remove all of your data from its memory and return all of its settings back to factory defaults.
To find out how to do this for your particular model, I recommend that you:
  • Look for that function in the printer’s manual.
  • Look in the printer’s menus using its front panel buttons.
  • Consult the manufacturer’s support website.
  • Try a google search for your model along with phrases like “factory reset” or something similar.
If you’re getting rid of it but you can’t do a factory reset
If you can’t perform a factory reset, for example:
  • You can’t find that function in the manual or the front-panel menus or online, or
  • Its front panel is stuck on some error, or
  • You can’t even power it on,
Then I recommend that you (or someone you know and trust) take it apart and destroy its internal electronics, including its circuit board, any internal hard drive, etc.
Additional advice
Before discarding or donating your printer, don’t forget to also:
  • Remove any paper from its input trays.
  • Remove any originals from the flatbed scanner glass or ADF.
  • If it has any card-reader slots, remove any memory cards.
  • If you’re donating it, be sure to include the power cable, its manual, and any spare cartridges.
If you’re keeping it but you’re concerned about an unauthorized person getting access to it
If you’re not getting rid of your printer but there’s a chance that an unauthorized person might access its stored faxes without your knowledge, I suggest that you do one of the following:
  • Some models have a function to delete stored faxes from the printer’s memory, usually in the same area as the “reprint” function.
  • Some models give you the option not to store recent faxes at all. For example, with many HP models if you access the embedded Web server (EWS) you can turn off the “Backup Fax Reception” option. Note that a factory reset will probably turn this option back on.
  • You could do a factory reset, but you should first write down all of your important settings (fax header, automatic vs. manual answer, number of rings to answer, fax sound volume, etc.), and then re-enter the date and time and all of those settings after the reset.
  • Consider moving your printer to a more secure location.
And then you should put a periodic review of your situation (with notes on how to repeat the above if necessary) into your calendar.
Where to go from here
How to contact me:
phone: (617) 484-6657

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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