A Bitcoin tale of woe
I bought Bitcoin in 2013. I was sixteen years old, and if I remember correctly, one Bitcoin was around £100 (it could’ve been anywhere between £30 and £150, but I remember it being around a hundred quid). I liked the idea of a universal currency, although I didn’t understand it (honestly, I still don’t). I went a few times to a coffee shop in Shoreditch, where I could buy a flat white for a fraction of a bitcoin. I estimate that the amount I paid for each flat white would be worth about £600 today. Those who claim that young people are throwing away deposit money on third wave coffee and avocado toast were, in my case, correct. I would guess I spent about £30,000 worth of Bitcoin on brunch.
I met a guy who was at university doing his dissertation on the sort of people who buy Bitcoin, who had posted to reddit asking to interview people who owned some Bitcoin. I think he was expecting (and hoping) to meet libertarians, and kept talking to me about how stupid Paul Krugman was. I was aware of Paul Krugman but didn’t know a much about him, so asked what made him so stupid. The guy said that Paul Krugman claimed that the internet was less important than the fax machine, and that he had been paid by fax machine companies for his efforts. I said that that sounded more dishonest than stupid to me, but the man assured me that Krugman was both dishonest and stupid.
I’m pretty sure I downloaded the Bitcoin onto a hard wallet, having been assured it was much safer than keeping it on an online wallet. A hard wallet is a place to store bitcoin locally on a laptop, rather than having it online where it could be hacked. I bought crypto from a website called MtGox, which apparently doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t know exactly when or how, but at some point, the old Macbook that had the crypto on it broke. I don’t remember how much money was in the wallet, but I’d say there’s about a 90% chance that it was between 3BTC and 30BTC. I had to do a reset of the laptop, and continued to use it for several years. The laptop then broke again, and I bought a new one (although I never got rid of the old one).
For years since then, I’ve heard various opinions on how likely it is I could get this money back. I went into my local computer repair shop and asked if it was possible to restore old files from a laptop that had been reset. I didn’t know whether to mention that it could be tens of thousands of pounds worth of Bitcoin, but I didn’t completely trust the bloke in the shop, so I decided to say I was looking for old work documents that I now desperately needed. He told me it was impossible, and that it would have been impossible since about a week after the reset.
A friend of mine told me that his brother was a self-taught cybersecurity expert, and could get the contents of the wallet if he could borrow the laptop for a few days. After some deliberation, I made up some excuse so I didn’t have to hand over the laptop. I didn’t know this guy’s brother, and wasn’t even sure whether ‘cybersecurity’ was the area of expertise he would need to do this sort of thing. If he really could extract the tens/hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of Bitcoin, it seemed like it would be pretty tempting to tell me there had been nothing on the harddrive, and make off with the cash. I think he figured out that I was suspicious, and was a bit hurt by it. More damage done by the damn laptop.
A few years ago, I found old emails I sent that had recovery words for an online wallet. Had I misremembered about having the money in a hard wallet? I managed to log in to some old online wallet I used to have, hoping that there may be at least some portion of the total amount of Bitcoin I had bought. There was nothing.
I know a fairly high percentage of my subscribers come from Hacker News, and many more of you are software engineers or seem like you might know about this sort of thing. So, I ask: is there a way to get this money back? Are there techniques I can learn on my own to have a shot at getting it back? Would anyone who thinks they have a decent chance of getting the wallet be willing to buy the laptop for some trivial amount just so I can forget about this whole thing? You can probably tell by the way I write about technology that I know basically nothing about how to go about this sort of thing. Please, someone, spare me from this continued source of misery!
Note: Sorry I haven’t been posting much recently (and also been pretty bad at responding to DMs/emails), I’ve had a lot on in my personal life. I hope to get back to posting properly, with a few longer and more interesting write-ups of interesting social science questions, at some point in September.