The finance company whose files were discovered on a second-hand PC bought by Computerworld says the machine was being disposed of as part of measures to improve data security.
Avco Finance, which has since become part of GE Finance, got rid of about 20 PCs in the middle of last year as it migrated to a thin-client setup.
Auckland-based administration manager Andrew Jackson says the motivation for the system overhaul was to centralise data on servers in Sydney.
"Historically we had separate databases in all our branches," says Jackson.
But in the process of centralising storage of the company's records, the PC of Avco's Dunedin branch manager, with data intact, fell into Computerworld's hands.
"I'm quite disturbed about that," says Jackson.
Computerworld bought the PC from second-hand computer dealer Ark Recycling, which supplies reconditioned PCs to schools. Ark has admitted the Avco PC, and two others bought by Computerworld, missed out on normal data erasure procedures.
According to Jackson, data on the PCs should have been destroyed even before they left Avco and he believed that to have been the case.
"I didn't go through personally and check them all. I checked a couple and there were no Windows or data files left."
A GE Sydney-based IT manager, Julian Togle, was incredulous at what had occurred.
The files found on the PC included Avco financial records and letters to customers who were behind in debt repayments.
Computerworld set out to demonstrate that PCs are often disposed of with little attention paid to erasing sensitive data. It commissioned Auckland company Computer Forensics to examine the hard drives of the second-hand PCs.
Jackson says following the move to the thin-client setup, which connects 82 staff in 17 New Zealand branches, GE Finance's environment "has clamped down beyond recognition".