I Threw Away $7.6 Million In Bitcoin

Five years ago, I threw away a hard drive. An utterly generic 250GB portable hard drive, already a few years old, with a couple of dings and scratches in its shell and with the beginnings of an audible click that would have eventually killed it.

It had a data file containing 1400 Bitcoin on it. No big deal, at the time.

Today, those few kilobytes are worth more than four million seven million dollars.

AU Editor's Note, 15/08/17: So, the price of Bitcoin smashed through the $US4000 barrier yesterday. I just did the maths, and instead of $4.2 million, my 1400BTC would now be worth $7.6 million. It seemed like the right time to share this with you all again. C'est la vie, I guess. -- Cam

So I Bought Some Bitcoin

To be honest, the details are a bit foggy these days. My best recreation of my potential brush with incredible riches comes from everything else that was happening at the time. When I moved out of home, when I moved back home, when I broke up with a girlfriend, when I PayPal'd some random stranger from the other side of the world a few US dollars for a digital transaction of an effectively worthless faux-currency.

At the start of 2010, Bitcoin trading wasn't even really a thing. It was hard to find anywhere that would sell BTC. Mining coins -- with your PC's CPU, then with your PC's graphics card, then with specialised and increasingly expensive hardware -- was the easiest way to accumulate Bitcoin out of thin air, with the only investment being electricity and processor cycles.

But I found a site, or forum -- I can't remember which -- where someone was selling Bitcoin. I think I paid well above the quasi-official exchange rate for the coins; who really cares about the difference between 1.2 cents and 1.5 cents when you're only spending $25? I'd read something fun about them, probably in WIRED, and wanted to understand them better, so I bought some.

Eventually, I had the Bitcoin sitting in a cold storage wallet -- an offline file, outside of any online bank or exchange or digital storage facility. A text file, basically, with a long string of cryptographic hash that represented an encryption key. I didn't trust any online service not to crash and lose my investment.

I put on a hard drive.

I used the hard drive for a whole bunch of things. Storing pirated music and movies and TV series, a portfolio of my best tech writing work, all my uni assignments, photos of friends and family and the couple of holidays that I'd taken. I took the hard drive with me when I moved out of home with my long-term girlfriend, and used it for all the things you use a portable hard drive for.

In the year or so that followed, we broke up, and I moved back home. As I was moving out I used the opportunity to clean up some of the accumulated tech detritus that comes with being a technology journalist. USB sticks, 3D glasses, USB cables, PC components -- all that sort of literal junk. A pile of junk that went into a skip. That hard drive was in the pile, and it had that damn annoying click. I had better portable hard drives.

I didn't need, or care about, anything on it. The photos were backed up to another portable drive, my writing was in Google Drive, the music was on my desktop PC.

So I threw it away.

It Really Wasn't A Big Deal, Guys

I think I remembered the Bitcoin a couple of months later. I know that I actually remembered them because of something else on the drive -- a terrible quality pirated copy of The Hire, BMW's short car-porn vignettes staring Clive Owen, which was and is still hard to find on the 'net. Remembering that on the drive made me think about what else was there -- including a little digital marker for 1400-odd Bitcoin.

When I remembered that I'd thrown away my Bitcoin stash, I was a little bit pissed off. In between the time that I'd frittered away $25 over the 'net and the day I remembered how many BTC I'd actually thrown away, the price had skyrocketed -- relatively -- from barely more than a cent to around $2.50 per coin. $4000, give or take, was what my loss was. I was in a bit of debt from a holiday to Japan a while before, and that four grand would have been nice.

It wasn't a big deal. It was one of those "aw, shit" moments that happen to everyone on a semi-regular basis. I got a parking ticket, I forgot to send a birthday card to a friend overseas -- that kind of thing. Without the benefit of hindsight, of course, it wasn't that big a deal. I think I got a promotion around that time that more than made up for my lost investment. Bitcoin was a fun fad.

Obviously time and the 'net have proven me wrong.

Time has been kind of the price of Bitcoin. Every now and then since, when I've seen Bitcoin in the news or reported on Gizmodo or mentioned in reference to world events like the WannaCry malware, I've checked the price. Bitcoin has become pretty popular since 2011. And I've done a bit of back-of-the-napkin calculation, and -- sometimes, not every time -- had a bit of a quiet moment and a shake of my head.

At the moment, at a historic high price in USD and AUD alike, my 1400 BTC would be worth $4.8 million $7.6 million -- and change. The price, always wildly volatile, is skyrocketing at the moment. When I first tweeted this story, it was $4.2 million, but in the two days since it went up 15 per cent. In the three months since, it's up another 80 per cent on that.

It'll probably go higher.

What Happens Now?

Honestly, as far as I'm concerned, my stash of 'coin is gone.

In the past couple of days, since I told my story, I've been contacted by friends and strangers alike with advice and suggestions -- and some hare-brained proposals -- on how to retrieve my Bitcoin.

Apparently landfill is exceedingly well organised and stratified. And my trash would be with other trash of the same age, with dates and locations and other clues along the path to a dented hard drive in a pile of USB cables. I could contact the tip or the council in the area that I rented that apartment in, and see if they could point me in the right direction. Police do it all the time.

One friend said that all I'd need to do is find someone willing to take a quarter stake in it -- on spec, of course, I don't have a million bucks -- to make it worth that person's time to track it down. But then that raises questions of its own -- what if someone else found the hard drive, that used to be my hard drive, first? What right would I have to that text file?

Strangers on Twitter -- quite a few of them, really -- have told me to double down and to invest in Eth. I'm fine, thanks. My dalliance with volatile digital currencies is over. I've learned my lesson, whatever it is. And I still have some Dogecoin, anyway.

I don't even especially want to find those Bitcoin, though. I'm really happy with my life at the moment. I don't need them. I'd like them, sure, but I don't need them. This isn't trying to get philosophical -- the real value was in the friends we made along the way, or some crap like that -- but just to say that I've come to terms with losing those Bitcoin. That chapter of my life is over.

I spent $25 on some Bitcoin. When I realised what I'd lost, they were worth about $4000. If you wanted to put a dollar figure on the anguish that I feel, it'd be somewhere between those two. Definitely not in the realm of millions of dollars. It's mostly a fun story that I trot out every now and then, and occasionally pretend to be mock-upset about, and only occasionally actually upset.

Do you have any regrets? I sure do. But in the scheme of things, this is only really a small one.



    i wanna cry with you.
    man, bad luck.

    This sort of story is meant to have a happy ending. First, the setup of thinking you lost them, then the drama of something really bad (relatively speaking) happening, then finding the HDD not thrown away, but stored somewhere nice and safe. Probably in the back of a draw behind all those old phone chargers that breed on you.

    The end, cut to credits.

    so... which rubbish tip is it in?

    I basically did the same thing, except I formatted the coins away, It wasn't as many as you had but probably $1 millions worth these days. At the time I just looked at all the data on the hdd and said meh I don't need any of that junk and just formatted it, for whatever reason I had at the time.

    I think I said something similar when I found out they were worth a few dollars. I actually wonder how many coins have been lost this was and Campbell's way.

    But I totally would have sold it when it was worth $1000 let alone waited till now.

      Bought $30 worth of bitcoins around
      4 years ago.

      I've forgotten the password and site where my bitcoins are stored.

    How does one convert a bitcoin into AUD?

      Via an exchange btc-e or kraken are two examples. You actually sell it for USD and then transfer to your bank, who convert it to AUD and into your account.

        Or, or accurately, got to a bit count exchange, attempt to convert them to USD and fail spectacularly as they're "hacked" away from you, then sit and pretend like the bitcoins you had were actually worth anything.

      I had mine converted into physical bitcoins.. still sitting on them too.

      I know everyone thinks I'm a loon because I rant about the banks, fiat currencies and trusting other folk (banks) to look after your money, but I think Campbell's case illustrates very well the fact that if you can't hold it in your hand, it ain't real.

      Still, sympathy to anyone who's lost bitcoins.

      Send you BTC to Coinspot, an Australian exchange linked to Australian bank accounts (check their conditions first). Or send your BTC to Coinjar which offers a swipe debit card valid anywhere in Australia. You can then get AU$ out of any ATM. Or use it to shop. Or send your BTC to Cointree which has a BPay bill paying facility. Easy!

    Sounds like you'd have potentially cashed in at $4K anyway, right?

    I got gifted $5USD worth about two or three years back from Circle following a Google show of some sort. Thats now sitting at $54USD. Enjoying watching that climb, curious to see where it goes. Given I got the $5 for free I'm happy to sit it out and see where it goes, maybe in a few years if the currency continues to climb I'll use that free donation towards something substantial.

    You mean you dropped it in at an e waste recycler.

    You could have bought 3 moderately nice houses in Sydney

    really only a combination of ones and zeros in a counterfeit reality no big loss and congrats on sucking more people in on the pyramid scheme nothing new here

    Last edited 25/05/17 10:23 pm

      Lack of uppercase
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      Best comment ITT

        Yeah, he's a troll of the worst order. I'm surprised he commented here, normally he trolls the science threads saying how daft we are cause we don't believe in pixies and fairies.

    I looked into buying a Bitcoin mining rig many years ago. It would have cost me around $2,000 - and, at the time, would have mined something like 1 to 2 thousand bitcoin a year. But, didn't bother. Doh!

    If at one point the original bitcoin files resided on the computers main drive. Even if the main drive has been formatted they may still be recovered.

    I imagine the files are very small and have a signature that can be found using a data recovery firm. I would not recommend trying this yourself given the assets possible worth.

    To think.... your Tesla would have been completely paid off in one transaction. ;)

    I bought 4 bitcoin about 5 years ago, cost me not much, they went up to about $25 each and I used them for PS4 controller. Not the same level as you, but I wish I had held on to them.

    Make it a Gizmodo competition - whoever tracks down the hard drive gets a million.

      ^ this!! This should be the real Sherlock Holmes competition haha.

      Why would whoever finds it want to part ways with only 20%. I'd have thought laws that governed lost property wouldn't apply for a hard drive which he willingly threw away and in turn if someone claims it from the junk yard its now theirs to keep.

        Good luck finding it without any information from Campbell.

    If it's any consolation Cam, if you had somehow kept possession of the coins, you would have cashed them out long ago expecting the bubble to burst. So instead of regretting losing your hard drive, you'd be regretting cashing out too early.

      this, if we all had that kind of foresight to hold on to things we'd all be millionaires.

    Man, that's rough. But it's futile to regret what could have been, and on the plus side it's not like you are worse off in any way; other than the $25 gone, that is :). Bygones, and all that ^_^

    I would ask you to think long and hard as to whether you may have made a backup of your wallet's private key. If so, you can import that into a new wallet and via the magic of the ledger you will can sit back and watch as your balance is progressively restored. I did this with some vertcoin I had stranded in an old Android wallet after a fork and it worked like a charm. Unfortunately I didn't have $4M worth :|

    lol ouch, you dun goofed

    The chances of getting the hard drive back and actually recovering the data needed are practically nil. Even if you knew roughly where it was buried it's probably too damaged from years in the ground. And that's assuming it's even in the ground. Lots of dumps have pickers wandering around checking for "interesting" items that have been dumped. It could easily have been picked up, tested and sold through the dumps trash and treasure sales.

    Kinda sucks to lose the bitcoin, but you really only lost a few thousand since you'd have cashed them out at the time you needed them. It's definitely one of those "wish I had" moments though.

    I Threw Away $4.8 Million In BitcoinThis headline is wrong. At the time, you threw away about $100 worth of Bitcoin.


        Well, from the sound of it, if it did reach $4000 you would have probably sold it. so...don't sweat it :D and further more, think about the future. Bitcoin is destined to to go Much much higher.... $100,000 atleast (interesting fact: a Satoshi is 0.000001 bitcoin...meaning its will eventually reach 1 million dollars a coin!)...so get some bitcoin when it dips down/corrects and HOLD on to it this time :) I only say because I had similar experience to you, except it was about $2000 (AUD) when price was about $15 a coin....

    Truth be told, you probably would have sold it way before it was worth that much... I mean, you threw it out when it was only worth $25

    What if you cashed in the 4 million and someone heard of this and you got stabbed and killed? You've just saved your own life by not getting a hold of them. Well done!

    I have been in IT since 2000 and all I can say is NEVER THROW OUT HARD DRIVES!

    RAM, mobos, CPUs... Sure! They don't store anything. HDDs? NEVER!

    I still have a 70MB IDE that used to be in my 286. It still has Ski Or Die, Wolf3D and LSL on it. I've imaged it before and that image is on another (couple) of hard drives. If it's one thing I learnt early, back in the day before CD burners and thumb drives, always keep your old data, you never know when you will need it.

    In this case... $4 mill... Far out man. I feel for you.

      Why keep a 70MB HDD when you can easily mirror the entire thing onto a larger drive. There's no need to keep old hard drives around to preserve things like a copy of Wolf 3D. The issue here isn't that he threw the hard drive out but that he failed to check its contents properly or back it up.

      As it was his article makes it sound like it wasn't in great health anyway.

        First of all you are simply lying ! Five years ago i.e. counting back from the time of your writing, it would have been approx May 2013. At that time bitcoin was around $90 .. $110 mark. Say $100 average. So for 1400 bitcoins you would have paid $140,000 ! , not $25

        Even if your story were true, you would have made several serious mistakes and no wonder that you would have lost so much:
        - you did not create a backup copy of it
        - a must in crypto is to have also a copy of the crypto on an ordinary piece of paper
        - you threw it all away - you could have stored that in a garage / basement etc for say a few years. There is always a possibility that SOME of that junk might have been useful later

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