It’s happened to many of us: Our computer no longer functions and it’s beyond our ability to fix it. But we won’t know what needs to be fixed until a computer repair technician takes a look at it.

Before you bring your computer into a repair shop, you need to be aware of the risks to your data stored on your computer:

When you are granting someone access to repair your computer, you are granting them full access to the information that’s stored on it. That means access to passwords, email, pictures, financial records and whatever else you save on your computer that you consider to be private and confidential.

This isn’t a theoretical case of a ‘what if situation’. This happens more often than we realize. A lawsuit was filed against Geek Squad claiming employees comb through personal files and sometimes COPY lewd or other content over to their own personal hard drives. Then there is the case of a Hong Kong movie star who brought in his computer for repair, only to have pictures of him and other Hong Kong actresses leaked to the Internet.

In order for any of this to be effective, you need to be doing items 2 to 5 before a problem with your computer arises.

Here are 5 things you can do to protect your privacy or at least be aware of before you send in your computer to repair:

1. Does a privacy policy exist at the computer repair store?

  • What is the policy if your confidential information is exposed as a result of brining the computer
  • Will the store take all the necessary steps to make sure your privacy is maintained

2. Remove all of your private information off your computer before bringing it in for repair.

  • This includes financial statements, receipts, browser settings, cached passwords, email, pictures, etc.

3. Store your private information on an external drive instead of the main hard drive.

4. Back up your data frequently.

  • Always remember to frequently back up your data. If you have to bring your computer in for repair and you haven’t backed up your information, it might be too late.

5. Use encryption software to protect your personal information.

  • Encryption software exists that allows you to encrypt portions of your hard drive to prevent unauthorized access to your personal information.

If you can’t trust the computer repair shop, then I recommend this as a final alternative:

Remove your hard drive before bringing it in for repair.

If your problem is not software related you should remove your hard drive. Computer repair shops should have spare hard drives in stock to test with. If your computer won’t turn on, it’s likely the problem isn’t related to the hard drive anyways.