Lost Treasure: The Biggest Bitcoin Fortunes That Disappeared
The decentralised nature of Bitcoin (BTC) and other cryptocurrencies has many advantages, especially when it comes to privacy and avoiding the fees and bureaucratic hurdles of fiat currency. But it also puts a lot of responsibility in the hands of the user. For example, when you store your cryptocurrency in a cold wallet, you need to remember your password to access your crypto. Your coins will be locked away until you do. And if you happen to lose the device that stores the keys… Well, goodbye, crypto holdings!
It has been estimated that around 20% of all Bitcoin currently in circulation (18.5 million BTC at the time of writing) is actually inaccessible, locked up in lost wallets. This is not necessarily a bad thing for traders (scarcity drives up prices), but we can spare some sympathy for the poor owners of these lost coins. How much Bitcoin have they lost access to? Let's take a look at the top 5.
1. Satoshi Nakamoto: 1.1 million Bitcoin
No one has such a presence in the mythology of cryptocurrency as the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, inventor of Bitcoin. What has this visionary done with the currency they created? Apparently, not much. In fact, Satoshi appears to have disappeared completely, leaving his vast fortune of over a million Bitcoin untouched. Satoshi should, by all rights, be one of the richest people in the world, but he seemingly has no interest in their money. What's going on here?
Perhaps this apparent genius has simply lost their credentials, or perhaps Satoshi is the ultimate hodler. People love to think about the second coming of a mythical figure, and if Satoshi were ever to return and start moving their funds, it would rock the whole financial sector.
2. Individual X: 69,000 Bitcoin
Back in 2018, a group of hackers listed this suggestively numbered amount of Bitcoin on the dark web. The password was unknown, and other hackers who bought it had to attempt to crack the code themselves as a kind of challenge. The wallet changed hands many times until the US Justice Department stepped in to seize it, claiming to know the owner, labelled "Individual X" in documents, a cybercriminal identified as having stolen a sizable amount of cryptocurrency from the black market platform Silk Road. Whether X was attempting to hide or offload the stolen fortune, the involvement of the federal government makes it very unlikely they will ever recover it.
3. James Howells: 7,500 Bitcoin
James Howells, an early crypto adopter, accumulated 7,500 BTC, which he stored on the hard drive of his laptop… which he then proceeded to throw away in 2013. Howells recently attracted a lot of attention in his native UK due to his much-publicised attempt to get the Newport town council to help him recover the lost wallet. He offered the council a 25% share of the wallet contents and an additional £50 million as a kind of COVID relief fund if the local government of the Welsh town would let him search a landfill for his lost laptop.
Unfortunately, Howells's petition was denied due to licensing and environmental regulations and the admittedly small chance of success of an excavation that would itself cost millions of pounds. Sometimes, it's just too late.
4. Stefan Thomas: 7,002 Bitcoin
Bay Area tech worker Stefan Thomas fell victim to the ultimate mistake that an IT professional should have been well aware of: he just forgot his password. Unfortunately, it protected access to over 7,002 BTC or over $200 million in USD value. Unfortunately, Stefan had secured the Bitcoin on a protected USB stick back in 2011 and then forgotten his credentials. After using up 8 out of 10 attempts to enter his password, Stefan reached out to social media for his last two guesses. Alas, these failed, and Stefan lost access to his millions. In a statement, Stefan said he had "made peace" with what happened. Would you have the same attitude in his place?
5. Gerald Cotten: Funds still unknown
Canadian financier Gerald Cotten was the CEO and co-founder of QuadrigaCX, a shady exchange in which 95% of activity was apparently conducted by Gerald himself under a bewildering array of aliases. Cotten ran the company as a Ponzi scheme, but before authorities could catch up with him, he died of heart complications in India in 2018, leaving his ill-gotten gains to his wife. Allegedly, this inheritance didn't come with the keys to access the cryptocurrency, said to be worth over $230 million! Rumours still circulate that the canny criminal faked his own death and is lying low.
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