Information On Fax Machines Could Lead To ID Theft

Fax Machine

Some fax machines store copies of everything, putting their owners at risk for identity theft. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS 2) – Identity theft is a constant concern these days. CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman has discovered yet another way thieves can get access to your most sensitive information, and take you for thousands of dollars.

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Wagner Office Machines is a small office supply store on the Southwest Side of the city. The 2 Investigators went undercover there and bought a used plain paper, thermal fax machine for $89.

“No you weren’t supposed to get this. I don’t know how you got this,” said shop owner Eric Wagner.

He’s referring to a thermal carbon cartridge used in many plain paper fax machines. It works like a scroll which when held up to the light reveals a copy of each fax received by the machine.

“We shouldn’t have been able to buy this from you with this in it?” Zekman asked during a confrontation at the store.

“That’s correct, that was a mistake,” replied Wagner.

It was quite a mistake because the cartridge contains dozens of purchase orders sent to a Southwest Side paper supply company called International Paper.

A representative for International Paper said they were upset that their confidential business records had been compromised in such a fashion.

When asked what he is concerned about when a customer buys a machine and gets information like this, Wagner answered, “Well, like you said, there’s all the peoples’ stuff on here, so you’re not supposed to have that.”

He says his salesman should have changed the cartridge before selling us the fax machine.

“You probably will never find that again. I don’t know where you’re gonna find somebody’s print cartridge accidently put in a machine that you’re purchasing,” said Wagner.

But we did find it again. We purchased two more thermal fax machines on eBay. Both contained cartridges full of personal information, including addresses, social security numbers and bank account numbers.

Experts say if you want to make sure your old fax machine is properly disposed of, you can take it to an electronic recycling firm, like Intercon Solutions, located in south suburban Chicago Heights.

“Beyond a shadow of a doubt, there’s documents stored within all plain paper fax machines,” said Intercon CEO Brian Brundage.

At Intercon Solutions, they break down electrical equipment to its core material for recycling.

“You’re gonna see a lot of consumers not realizing that, that data is so easily accessible in those devices, ” Brundage added.

While carbon cartridges can be replaced for around $20, Brundage warns that many fax machines also store data on internal drives and memory chips.

When asked if it was possible to safely sell a used fax machine, Brundage replied, “I would believe that you couldn’t.”

The cartridge CBS 2 bought at Wagner Office Machines was returned to International Paper. CBS 2 will destroy the fax machines bought through eBay.

One of the eBay sellers told CBS 2 he never thought about what information might be stored on his machines, but he says this serves as a lesson.