A weed dealer’s $59M lesson: Don’t hide Bitcoin keys with a fishing rod

If only it were this easy to catch lost Bitcoin credentials.
Enlarge / If only it were this easy to catch lost Bitcoin credentials.
Cravetiger / Getty Images

In a world where various mass breachers dictate the use of strong, randomized passwords more than ever, reliable and secure credentials management is paramount in 2020. One Irish drug dealer has evidently learned this lesson the hard way.

This week, the Irish Times reported the sad tale of Clifton Collins, a 49-year-old cannabis grower from Dublin. Collins quietly grew and sold his product for 12 years, and he amassed a small fortune by using some of that revenue to buy bitcoins around 2011 and 2012 before the price of the cryptocurrency soared. But in 2017, state authorities on a routine overnight patrol spotted and then arrested Collins with an estimated $2,171 of cannabis in his car. The man quickly earned himself a five-year jail sentence.

According to the Times: as part of authorities’ investigation, Ireland’s Criminal Assets Bureau discovered and confiscated 12 Bitcoin wallets belonging to Collins totaling nearly $59 million (reportedly the biggest financial case in CAB’s 25-year-history). There was only one problem—CAB couldn’t access the accounts because Collins had lost the keys.

Nervous about having a ton of money tied up in a single wallet, Collins diversified in 2016 by splitting his 6,000 bitcoins across 12 newly created wallets, the Times writes. And to further secure this fortune, Collins reportedly hid a piece of paper containing the access codes inside a fishing rod case at his home.

Unfortunately for Collins then and authorities now, Collins says a separate criminal broke into his home in 2017 and cleared the man’s belongings. And upon Collins’ arrest, his former home was cleared on behalf of his landlord, with left-behind belongings taken to a dump. The Times reports that dump workers told state police they remembered seeing fishing gear, but waste from this particular dump is sent to Germany and China and incinerated by procedure. The fishing rod case has been missing ever since.

Tales of lost Bitcoin glory are nothing new, of course. Back in 2016, the Tahoe-LAFS free software project nearly lost ~$389,000 in Bitcoin donations when a laptop containing the access information was reformatted. The very next year, $280 million in Ethereum was frozen after the deletion of a single wallet.

Police told the paper they hope Bitcoin tech will evolve so this cache could be accessed and then converted to cash for the state to use. As for the man who started and once held those funds, as the Times wrote, “Collins told gardaí [Irish police] he has had time to come to terms with the loss of the money and regarded it as punishment for his own stupidity.”


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