In recent weeks, authorities have arrested an Iraq War veteran accused of stealing information on about 400 members of his former Army unit so he could make fake IDs for a militia, and a state employee in Tennessee resigned after investigators said he downloaded data on thousands of teachers.
Even as reports of data mismanagement or theft proliferate, agencies and corporations may not realize the danger of not disposing of their equipment properly, said Molli Wingert, CEO of Secure Data Sanitization, a 4-year-old business in Boise, Idaho.
"I think we're still doing a lot of educating," she said. "It's tough because even my state groups think it's not going to happen to us. Well, that's a risk I'm not sure you want to take."
Wingert and Steve Chafitz say the information technology departments at typical companies might not have the proper tools or training to adequately dispose of data. IT departments focus on fixing and restoring data, they say, while data wiping companies focus on just the opposite.
The road that led to the Chafitzes' work destroying medical records, X-ray images, defense equipment and used BlackBerrys and iPhones started at the other end of the spectrum. In the 1970s, the couple marketed and distributed early calculators, computerized backgammon games and other consumer electronics that companies such as Sharp and Casio were just starting to roll out.
The husband-and-wife team used eye-catching mottoes such as "Space Age Fantasies" or "The Adult Toy Store" for their retail businesses as they secured exclusive distribution deals to sell the latest gizmos, whether they be pens embedded with digital clocks or early personal computers.
They marketed an electronic chess game that attracted the attention of reclusive grandmaster Bobby Fischer, who offered to endorse it, but the price was too steep, Steve Chafitz said.
Other marketing successes allowed the Chafitzes to cash in on their 14-year-old business in 1983 and move on to other ventures.
In 2006, the pair noticed that people were replacing their computers and cellphones more quickly, without taking care to safeguard data on the devices they were leaving behind.
"If you delete a file in a hard drive, it's still there," Steve Chafitz said.
They also saw the plastic and aluminum in the discarded machines filling up landfills. That's why they decided to open e-End with the zero-landfill policy — they say they recycle everything.
In addition to "sanitizing" devices, e-End also fixes and refurbishes discarded computers that don't need to be destroyed and sells them on eBay or donates them to nonprofits, Steve Chafitz said.
"We've come full circle," Arleen Chafitz said. "We felt we had to give back to the environment."