Everybody wishes they had as many Bitcoin as Stefan Thomas has, yet nobody would want to be in his shoes. Even Thomas feels uncomfortable in them.
How did he get into a predicament like that? The explanation is one that most people have experienced at one time or another and will sympathize with. The only difference between all those people and Thomas is that in most of those cases, probably little money or none at all was involved. But in Thomas’s case, a fortune is at stake - several hundred million dollars.
This story started in San Francisco back in 2012. At that time, Bitcoin was largely unknown in the investment community and was selling for just $12; by comparison, there were plenty of well-known investment opportunities and other speculations around. Thomas, a programmer, studied them, and decided that Bitcoin was the one best suited to him; he bought 7,000 of them.
The current price of Bitcoin - nearly $33,000 - is approximately 2,750 times higher than it was when Thomas first purchased it. At this point, his investment is worth over $231 million.
Having become fabulously wealthy one would think Thomas should be jumping for joy, but he isn’t, because there’s one problem: Bitcoin is an anonymous currency and the only way to access it is with a password the owner chooses for him or herself. Unfortunately for Thomas, that’s impossible because he lost the password.
Without that password he is unable to unlock his digital wallet and has no access to the Bitcoin in his account. Although he saved the password on an old hard drive, that drive only allows 10 wrong password attempts before it locks access forever. At this point only two attempts are left.
Thomas says sympathetic people have suggested a variety of solutions which range from the silly to the logical to the supernatural. One individual suggested that he type in the word “password.” Others have suggested that he contact psychics, self-proclaimed prophets, hypnotists, and the like in order to retrieve the missing information. Unfortunately, none of the solutions suggested by these or other sources comes with a guarantee, and at this point he has absolutely no room for error.
All Too Common
According to The New York Times, forgetting a password is an all-too common problem. The Times reports that about $140 billion of Bitcoin has either been lost or is currently stranded in digital limbo because their owners lost their passwords.
It’s not just owners of Bitcoin who lose passwords. In fact, almost anything that can get lost sometimes does. Over the years, countless investors have lost their stock certificates and couldn’t sell those shares when they wanted to. Others have lost gold and silver coins, precious jewelry, rare trading cards, stamps, and other valuables.
One individual was overcome with joy when he checked the numbers on his lottery ticket and discovered that he was a first prize winner. But that joy quickly turned into extreme anguish when he couldn’t remember where he had hidden the ticket.
In desperation, he began searching through everything in his apartment with a fine-tooth comb. Finally, after many stomach-turning hours, he found the ticket: It was pressed against a wall behind the frame of a painting - a hiding place that very nearly proved to be too good.
Not all stories about lost objects have a happy ending. In at least one case, a star sapphire was accidentally mixed with junk jewelry and sold at a flea market for a few dollars. The buyer happened to be standing on a nearby staircase when the sun was shining on the tray holding it and from his angle he saw the star and purchased it. Just to make sure the purchase could not be challenged, he asked the seller to describe the item on a bill of sale and insisted on paying tax on the transaction. This was a windfall for the lucky buyer but a costly mistake for the unlucky seller who didn’t realize he was practically giving away a fortune.
In another sale, an original copy of the Declaration of Independence was hidden in the back of a painting and forgotten; many years later it was purchased for just $4 at a flea market by someone who wanted a cheap frame. People can and do lose all kinds of valuable items all of the time and Bitcoin is just one of them.
A Learning Experience
There are several important lessons about money and life that investors could learn from Thomas’s experience. They are practical and worth bearing in mind even for people who are not now and who never will become super wealthy.
*Keep your cool. This is a lot easier said than done if someone discovers that he or she cannot access their money, that markets are volatile, and that prices are changing quickly. This is a nasty jolt by anyone’s definition. But panicking never helps and could easily lead to someone making rash and foolish decisions. So take some time and compose yourself.
*Consult an expert. Prepare to pay for this, but if there is a significant amount of money involved the expense is definitely worthwhile. The person you speak with will be able to explain what options are available, which is best suited to you, and how to pursue them;
*Consider sharing passwords and related private information with your spouse when that’s possible, with your rabbi, or with a trusted relative or friend. Even these days, there are still people who are decent and trustworthy.
*Put things in perspective. When Thomas first realized that he was locked out of his Bitcoin account, “I was desperate,” he told KGO TV. “I don’t have any other word to describe the feeling. You question your own self-worth. ‘What kind of person loses something that important?’”
That was over nine years ago and since then time has - if not healed his pain - certainly numbed it. These days, Thomas focuses on the positive aspects of his life and he is in good spirits.
There’s a real chance that at some point Thomas will find his missing password. If he does, two to one he will never lose it again.