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SECURE ERASE WILL CLEAN OUT HARD DRIVE

Q: Re: Cleaning up a computer's hard drive and deleting sensitive, personal info before selling.

If the only sensitive data I have on my computer is through my banking Web sites, do I need to do anything other than format the computer to clean it up? I have not stored any sensitive info in my computer. The only time I input sensitive info is when I log on to Web sites.

A: Sometimes passwords and other information you enter online can be stored in cookies (special files on your hard disc). So you can't be sure that there isn't any information that can be forensically recovered by someone who knew what they were looking for.

If you're giving your computer away, it's better to be safe than sorry and do a secure erase. There are many free secure delete programs available on the Internet; just do a search for "secure erase."

Q: I have a new Dell and am using Windows Mail. The problem is with an e-mail from my son that I have not been able to delete from April. Also, I have three e-mails that I cannot open, delete or store in any other file. I get this message when I click to open them:

"MESSAGE COULD NOT BE DISPLAYED. Windows Mail encountered an unexpected problem while displaying this message. Check your computer for low memory or low disc space and try again."

A: This problem is usually caused by a corrupt mail store. The "Check your computer for low memory" is just a catch-all error many processes use when something is so out of line from what is expected that it assumes there must be some kind of system corruption due to insufficient memory or disc space.

It is almost never an accurate assessment. With that said, let's see if we can fix these problems ...

Microsoft includes a command line utility called esentutl that can be used to check, defragment and repair the WindowsMail.MSMessageStore file. Here's how to use it:

Exit out of Windows Mail. Back up your e-mail data to another folder or disc. This includes the folder C:Mail and all its subfolders as well.

Note that the AppData folder is normally hidden, but if you click the Start button and then paste the complete folder spec from above and hit Enter, it will take you right there.

Also note that in the folder spec I listed above, you'll need to substitute your user name (logon name) in place of "your_username."

So, for me the entire folder spec would be C:Mail. Now that you've safely backed up that entire folder (it's important, don't skip that step) it is time to use the esentutl utility. Click the Start button and type CMD and then hit the Enter key.

This will open a command window (affectionately known as the DOS prompt for us old-timers).

To Repair your WindowsMail.MSMessageStore file:

- esentutl /p "C:MailDefragment your WindowsMail.MSMessageStore file

- esentutl /d "C:Mailcheck the Integrity of your WindowsMail.MSMessageStore file

- esentutl /g "C:Mail \windowsmail.msmessagestore"

Send questions to personaltech@sptimes.com or Personal Tech, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Questions are answered only in this column.

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