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#115 The Bitcoin Hunter


Writer Jia Tolentino has a new case for Super Tech Support: where are all those bitcoin she bought six years ago?

Further Reading

Planet Money's bitcoin story

Stories by Jia Tolentino

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This episode is brought to you by better for him a new podcast from eighty people. In each episode Francesca Ramsay talks to visionaries in business leaders about mistakes. They ve made how they work their way through them and came out better for it. Listen on sport FI or wherever you get your pot. This episode is brought to you by a Sana, a saga is an app designed to help teams plan, organise and execute all the work they do together. It helps you it sure nothing falls through the cracks, so you can focus on the work that matters most learn more. Try Osanna for free visit, asano dot com to get started? That's a ass! A dna dot com from gimlet reply. I am out scope. Be developed, and this week Pga we have a super tech support
Super tech support is a statement on her show where listeners right in with extraordinary unseen. Voltaire problems and we decided a job solving private here. The person who will solve all of them and I M actually have covered doozy this week. What are you so? This super tech support comes to us from one of my favorite writers. First things first, can you just tell me who you are and G8 haunting out on staff rather than Yorker You emailed us yes again You tell me why you emailed us. I emailed you guys, because I bought Bitcoin in what I thought was twenty eleven, think was January twenty twelve. I bought some bitcoin because I had read peace on Gawker, about silk road, and I was like I want to see if I can learn how to buy Bitcoin figure out what the dark web, as Jia told me that at the time she just gotten back from a year in the peace corps, she was in Kurdistan and she just
very little access to the internet, and so I got a re acquainted with the internet by buying some bitcoin and then by some drugs off silk road and then being like wow the internet site like sampled a couple things. What did you said along for what you wanted to buy? I think I buy it we'd and Molly ok yeah and how we're the drop. I think they were fine. I actually think the wheat was not that good and I think the Molly was smaller, so great and just as she brought about eighty bucks for the Bitcoin, MR purchase, and she knows that there was Bitcoin left over, but in this six years since the original purchase, she has totally forgotten what happened to the Bitcoin, when you gonna trapping, and you have like some sunlight currency left already Turnus actor right. Although the thing I can't tell you know the next thing, which is that so give you gonna trip, hasn't
As you have ever, as it were in the intervening years, this cartoon comes like immensely emigrants. Let me perhaps of all right I we sat down this is a couple months ago and try to figure out exactly how much aid I wish the bitcoin would be today. What was the date you gave January twenty. Fourth: twenty off on the twenty third Bitcoin, with six dollars and twenty nine cents fuck and now. It is sixteen thousand eight hundred and forty eight hours and forty nine cents. So eighty, like, let's say eighty divided by six times sixteen k, I dont have two hundred thirteen thousand dollars right now. I dont worry what's wrong with you must be really agonize, I'm so mad at me. I'm sorry to censor smoke about it. Now it's crazy, but it also like that was never real. Money was thou guide. Two hundred this is this really hurts
Look I Disraeli earth, so I got I really wow Jia probably doesn't have the full two hundred and thirteen thousand dollars because we have established she's already spent some of that money. She just has the remainder, but he could easily be six figures of money. Yeah, that's the worst feeling. Ok, so I was like I want to help, and I was like ok first things: first, let's just retrace GS steps which is, actually really hard, because not only did you buy this Bitcoin six years ago, buying Bitcoin this stupidly complicated. So can you plain to me to the best of your memory like exactly the process of buying the Bitcoin and then buying the drugs. Yes, ok, there can be a big hole here. Ok, so I downloaded Tor and then I looked at silk road and I said: ok, I'm and try to get some bitcoin
and make an account and do this and I remember taking my boyfriend's guard of the Bank of America drive through putting like you know what I think, my than eighty dollars in a little pneumatic tube it getting sucked up the nomadic tube wait, a minute you deposited money, yeah cash. American. Have? U S dollars. Absolutely that's iron pneumatic to write a normal bank yeah. Is that I think that's what am I supposed to do? I think it was actually just her putting money in your bank account either way she goes home, get on the internet just like the regular internet, not the dark web, and she goes to this thing called a bit when exchange, which just think of it as a back, but it's just like a website yeah she purchases Bitcoin using that money. So now her money is at this. Online Bitcoin Exchange a bank and she has one of two actions. She can let the Bitcoin Exchange keep track of the bitcoin for her or she can
keep track of it using a programme on her laptop called a bitcoin, which is what she thinks she did. And then I remembered using some sort of internet tutorial to learn PDP or to get a p2p idyllic encrypt, something about my wallet yeah. I hit these words right. It's like I wish I had a little wallet. That would is that elsewhere, too, big live. Where do they live much money? Aren't you
So the thing that I didn't fully understand about Bitcoin until I started reporting. The story is that it's pretty much impossible to lose because all it means to own Bitcoin is there's this gigantic public list of every account and every transaction that's ever been made using Bitcoin is totally anonymous and when you buy Bitcoin, all they do is put you on the list and the thing that GM loss is her proof that she's on the list called a key, and all that does is allow her to point to a spot on the list and say those eighty hours with the bitcoin. Those are mine is like she is like what he actually loss is more like a claim ticket right. So what we're looking for is the key to Gm Bitcoin and it's totally possible that it lives on her old laptop in her because while it ok
gee. I did tell me, though, that the laptop is broken and it doesn't turn on. I M gonna need that computer. Ok, should I should I like, send it off somewhere and get that hard drive done or can before you do that I'd like to take a look at it. I have a history of texts. Aport sought might be I I might be able to breathe the thing up and see go on there. I will bring you my laptop. This is exciting. I like this So a couple days later, she comes by the office as a guy. Meter outside, and she had told me that this laptop didn't turn on, but you didn't tell me the x to which it didn't turn on our right. Here it is its am. I got an email, so big, I think its load
with the whenever I Bruce giving recently water damage, I mean it was not water damage. I open up my computer and it turns out that the battery had exploded inside the computer, but I managed to get the hard drive out. I connected to my computer and I went down into the studio with producer Domino, Marconi, okay, it is Tuesday January. Second, twenty eighteen to the new year Diana don't act like you're, not the room, I am going to look into his hard drive today in the hopes that I can find a bitcoin wallet and maybe her lost riches got it.
Are you ready for this odyssey of discovery spare exciting earlier slaughtering it in maybe don't force it added in backward, is mounting it's not. The hard drive is spinning. I can feel the hard drive spinning there's a chance that, like this, the hundreds dead, the hard drive is spinning, which means I know the problem. This is likely to my computer, it's embarrassing. So anyway, I get the hard drive working and then wait. A second weight is again. This looks like a wallet address. I find this programme on our computer, this complete coin
and I opened it up. It has no transactions, it has not received any bitcoin does not send any bitcoin. Basically it saying she doesn't have anything, that's what it's saying. Yes says a dead end, its it the little that plays a slightly interesting that end, because it's like I mean clearly she's right, that anxiety invented the memory of buying Bitcoin but is out there it's not in the laptop which mean ticket, probably only be in one other place. So do you remember when I said that GM bought her Bitcoin from a between exchange, which is like a bank? Yes, I do remember she when she bought them. She might have just decided to leave. That money on the website says, there's nothing from actually hold onto what does that mean? Basically, instead of her managing her own bitcoin keys and worrying about potentially losing them and never getting her Bitcoin back, she could leave it on the site and instead of having to worry about the key,
should have to worry about. Is the username and password to the site? To simple is that ok and the Good NEWS is that GM remembers where she bought her bitcoin, which is great, which is where, whilst that's the bad news she bought it at a website called mouth docks so in the early days of Mount markets was like the Bank of America, big like if you wanted to buy back when you go to them. There were estimates that something like eighty percent of all bitcoin transactions went through the site and what happened was one day in early twenty fourteen amount ducks just stopped during people's requests, mess money, rethink of ozone volume areas like and then a document leaked from Mount Cox that said over the course of several years, hackers had stolen eight hundred and fifty thousand Bitcoin from Malcolm yes
one of the biggest Bitcoin exchange houses called mouth gulps- has gone off line. Seems, to have vanished. Something is suspicious and doesn't know right. Here, transactions have been halted and the sea ear was unaccounted for after resigning from the Bitcoin Foundation. People work freaking out about this. There was talk that this was the end of Bitcoin entirely because there was half a billion dollars worth of Bitcoin. There was just gone, which today would be ten billion dollars. They managed to recover some of the bitcoin that they ve lost, but a huge chunk of it has just gone now: cocksucker bankruptcy, people start I ll in lawsuits left and right. It's a total mass. The only bright point in this dark tale- I mean at least for Us- is that now docks puts a portal on their website that lets you check to see.
You had Bitcoin there when the such at, like your name, was yet on tuna reckon so I called yeah I walk or through the site. It'll take you to the mouth got: bankruptcy filing system, a guy she tried to log in you didn't like what passport was easing and twenty revenge can't remember her password she's like mine, of all of memory, we tried using the forgot my password action. The temporary authentication toad will be sent to the contact email address that you entered on the bankruptcy claim form. I think I may have missed the boat on this now. It turns out the whole system only works if you filed you're lost Bitcoin claim before July of twenty fifteen, so we're a couple years too late. I am so useless this it look, I would have made us rich. All we're doing is exhausting all possible options, yeah
and there is still a chance you can make us rich, never give up our era as long as you have hundreds of potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars locked on the internet somewhere, you have to have hope. I mean it's still possible. Let her big when was in milk ox when it was hacked, which is the only thing at this point that we're trying to figure out, but we won't be able to get that information from this website that sucks. But at this point I am feeling pretty just because I feel like all I need to do is find the right person at Mount Box to speak to like the right bank, teller, editors, others, accidents, Hotline somewhere in Japan, there's a room where people sit by telephones and take her all day from angry people who have lost their bitcoin fortunes, and I thank you for calling to enable us to get beating. How can I help you today? Yeah? I would like to check on the account balance of an account on male gonNA was well say about, if not
I try asking if I can talk to her boss. I ask if there's anybody else there. I can speak too basically. I learned that this operator has a ton of polite ways of saying now, but I can I can. Give you the information, and maybe they would get back to me now. Unfortunately, I am not going to parliament for that. Ok is there a way to contact the trusty directly not only weaken up from you think I understand I understand this went on for a while, and I didn't really get anywhere and keep coming back my fate and by so at this point I decided that my last option was to escalate. This whole thing to go to the one person who was positive would know whether jihad any Bitcoin on marks the owner of marks. His aim is Mark Car palace. Ok, there's this video of him. It appears
conference. After Mount docks went down, but before people knew that it was a hack, so we had a vote because is this nerdy scared, looking french guy who bought the site in very early days and got super rich and people who worked with mark when he ran Mount acts, told me that he ran that site in a pretty strange way and it was really easily distracted like a good example of that is. He was in the process of renovating a floor in the mailbox building because he was really into caramel lattes.
Make a cafe where he wanted to serve apple pie and keep the he baked. That was like his priority. That's crazy! That's, like Roman emperor type shop, wow! So ok, so I knew I like. A thief is doing tiny amounts of Bitcoin him he's like a thing I really good key for us and so after the hack mark actually get arrested, because people think that he in the money he's on trial right now and when I started talking to people in the Bitcoin realm, they all said basically marks not talkin anybody. Good luck, getting in touch with them. I reached out to a bunch of former godson, plays all the people I could think of who might connect us and I finally got in touch with a person who told me that they had been intermediaries
between me and mark and four weeks. I would send that personal message and they would forward to Mark- or at least that's what they told me and then a couple days ago I was like this can reach out to mark on, read it and on a read it. He he's a rudder, yes and I did and whose again over you're sure hope you, this ha ha ha ha ha ha. Do it for the ready Carla. So I gave him olive jeers information and proof that that you're, her emissary yeah, and I told him all I want from you is to just tell me if Jia has any bitcoin on marks, he disappears for about six hours comes back and says she has no balance. What's on my guts, oh my god. I have to say I M press that you got that now honestly, but what does that mean like what are the remaining possibilities? Then? Basically, I
dear. Are you sure that you got your bitcoin from our colleagues and she said? Yes, she sent me a confirmation, email and unless she go. I'm out action then moved it to another Bitcoin exchange. It must be on her laptop. I must have missed something, so I asked every one that I have been speaking about. This is their legal Bitcoin Hunter out there like their bit queen hunter that I can talk of Tibet COIN Hunter. Just some person who has the skill to locate missing bitcoin that was both for you to see now. There's some kind of super tack acts for predicting tackled this problem, but listen. I know the limits of my take the work
You know what I mean by technical everything and I go to people who who can possibly help me. So is there a Bitcoin Hunter out there? There is. I found him agree down this episode is brought by better for it a new podcast from HTTP hosted by Francesca Ramsay. We all make mistakes better for it.
How mistakes have shaped the lives and careers of visionaries and business leaders and helps them think differently about what their working for you'll hear from an entrepreneur who ventured out on his own, and so I went out. I took seven hundred dollars. I had in the bank, but my own pickup truck, took some flyers business cards and later I had a business and in aid our role breaker, whose learned why we all care about work in the first place, you deprive the word the do you want to be able to tell your friends about it? You want to be able to feel like you're, making a different you'll hear how they work their way through their mistakes and came out better for him. The non Spotify or wherever you get your PA casts. This episode is brought to you by a Sana picture. There a world where you spend less time juggling email meetings and status, updates and more time doing the work that matters, the most your team, that's the world economy.
Bill. To create a saga is an app designed to help teams, plan, organise and execute all the work they do together its built to give teams clarity, You can all understand your goals and how to achieve them together and whatever your next object is a sonnet. Can help reduce the busy work that waste your time from small. Companies to global enterprises more than a million teams across find hundred and ninety five countries get work done with oh yeah, it happens, I assigned honor for free visit, assign a dot com to get started. That's a S day, a dot com. So the big went hunter I found his name. Is Jeremy Reuben he's real involved in the bickering community and has helped other people like gee. I find their last bitcoin. They probably happens like not
Equally, oh yeah, it happens all the time. I read something that said that it was like twenty percent of all Bitcoin are lost anyway, Jeremy lives, San Francisco, but I had him remote into my computer. So we could take a look at your hard drive together and try and find the last bit going. It's called it. You finally found someone and not a new person or remote into your computer. I got remote into my computer Fetish Teresa banks used to give like who remote access hides is Jimmy yeah how's it going good. Basically, what we're looking for is any trace of the existence of these bitcoins and at first we're just looking at the same stuff that irony looked at, but since he's a Bitcoin hundred, he knows to look in folders that I didn't even know existed. So if you go to the directory called application support. Okay, so now
We're looking for- and here is anything related to Bitcoin. I am, I see a folder right here called Bitcoin, that's exciting! That's very! Oh boy so dear me finds this file called wallet dad dad any says just move that to your computer and open it there, okay, moon, truthful and see what happens here. Oh boy, That's like at some point: there is seventeen Bitcoin on this, while at seventeen Bitcoin yeah, that's a lot. Seventeen Bitcoin is two hundred and fifty five thousand dollars in today. Dollar. Yes, yes, and at this point I am pretty sure that this is the money that we're looking for that. This is the change from Gs Drug Purchase, but the problem is, it doesn't stay in your wallet. If you look, it looks like they came to the wallet and she sent them out immediately so Gs Bitcoin,
Landon her bit, Cornwall it and almost immediately. She moves it somewhere else, but here's the cool thing, because we know GS, Bitcoin wallet address. We can go online to this website called Black kinda info. It shows me Bitcoin Block six, one, six, four, zero to seven from black chained up it, showing in literally watch her bitcoin, try. Or from account to account to account. We don't know the actual names of the people who own these accounts, but we can see how much money they have so we're tracing the funds. Now seeing where they ended up- and now it's gone from, you know being in an address with a hundred thirty one to two hundred. Let's just keep on clicking on on the biggest one income. Jeers Bitcoin ended up in an account to find some owned by someone who has we more than your average between user, they have sixty nine thousand Bitcoin wow
and Jeremy looks that account and he's like. No one really has that kind of Bitcoin that is much more likely, probably a bitcoin exchange. So at this point of falling on GM took the change from a drunk. Purchase and she put it in like another bank or exchange whatever like not mount ox some other place for some reason, and then she just forgot about it. Possibly I mean we are basically making educated guess is based on a bunch of compounds is so I asked Jeremy like hey. I know the whole point of Bitcoin is its most totally anonymous, then we can figure out whose interacting with who but like, is there any way we can identify anybody like, we identify the people that Jia was interacting with Andy. We would like, maybe really he said that like outside of his area of expertise. He could not do it, but there are people who claim that they can, and so he put me in touch with a company called chain Alice's
Do they do can Alice's as a company that basically does like Bitcoin forensic so like there, the people you go to. If someone is trying to blackmail you from a bit quaint account or if the IRS is trying to catch some one who is hiding tax money in a crypto currency account got it so the co founder of companies, news, Jonathan Levine, I send you an email and he raced back right away. Hey I'm on a transatlantic flights coming to New York from Cape Town. I don't have anything to do right now. I can figure this out well The plane isn't like. Google wireless yeah- that's crazy, I send him. Ah, jeers Bitcoin wallet address in the transaction information and he gets back to me like a half an hour later and he's like. I figure this out, I will be landing in New York in a couple hours up up up up up, I'm gonna take a shower, and then I'm coming. Ok, so it comes to the studio he's wearing a police are in scarf, like for a guy who's
just travelled many many hours. He is an extremely dapper dapper. Fellow right, let me give you a little by little background on the story. So, should I try to give you the story without even telling me and see whether that matches the story that you are going to tell me absolutely go for it, so you provided me with the bickering address and I would really like it if you didn't even provide me the name of the person you are interested, because I would have been able to go back and basically tell you who that wars and where
she got her Bitcoin from and where she sent her Bitcoin too. How could you have figured that out? There I mean I've. I figured out in less than thirty seconds up up up up up up up up up up up, I'm just trying to I'm gonna do in real time. Just while we sit here. Ok here, we await the thing. He's doing on Mass he anonymous people. The whole point of these now must be able to do that. So why has he just like broken as your hacked bitcoin? No, he hasn't hacked Bitcoin. The deal is that, like, since every transaction using Bitcoin is public he's watching money go from place to place any sort of using deductive reasoning and educated guesses to figure out who is behind Bitcoin accounts and he's really good at it. So I can see that this big Coronado, you supplied me, received seventeen point five bitcoin. It received all of the bitcoin from my colleagues and
sent all of the bitcoin to silk road so that sixty nine thousand bitcoin account that we were hoping with a big quaint exchange. It was so proud, so she doesn't the reason. There's no left over money divine is he has wretchedness, remembering then our money on drugs, almost all of her money, what happened? So I talk to you today, ok, so this has been a real policy for me. Really I will we do you know the answer. I do. Oh, my God alright, so you got seventeen point. Five. Ninety five: nine: zero, zero, zero bitcoin. You spent seventeen point five: nine, zero, five: zero, zero, zero, zero Bitcoin, meaning you have a balance in your account.
Five point: zero, zero, two zero guy coin- really wait. I spent almost all of it. I was that precise with my yes, oh my god. This is why it is That to me feels like a win money and some money point: zero, zero, two zero nine bitcoin is in today's Bitcoin market twenty four dollar forty seven said so embarrassing. No, this is like my mom was always a gear. You shouldn't do any drugs, I'm like mine. My life is very on track. This is the first time I've been like. You should jump to guide Tab,
who reply, always hosted by PDA vote and me Alex Goldman the shows produced by Will you put him in any way? Damietta marketing and Caitlin Roberts more production have this week from prison, people are editors. Team Howard, backtracking by Michel, Harris are in turn, is Devon. Gwynn special thanks. This week, Jed Mikhail Open and can him alone who did his own great bitcoin hunting story on the planet. Money podcast we will pay linked to that in the show knows, we were mixed by require our theme is by the mysterious break master cylinder, and this super tech support and theme: on a the best hold music in the world. Is simplicity by MAC Reform.
That labour is a vending machine. They give you two of the thing that you wanted by mistake. You can visit our website piled limo and you can find more emphasis to the show on Spotify Apple Podcast, wherever you listen thanks for listening seen a couple weeks.
Transcript generated on 2020-02-13.