Man who can't remember Bitcoin password says he's 'made peace' with $220M loss

ByLiz Kreutz KGO logo
Thursday, January 14, 2021
SF man with $220M in bitcoin can't remember password
Stefan Thomas says he long ago "made peace" with the reality he may never gain access to his $220 million bitcoin fortune.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco man who can't remember the password to unlock his $220 million Bitcoin fortune says he long ago "made peace" with the reality he may never gain access.

Stefan Thomas went viral this week after a New York Times profile revealed to the world his unsettling dilemma: The password to unlock his Bitcoin fortune is locked in a hard drive that gives users 10 attempts before wiping clean. Thomas has just two more tries.

In an interview with our sister station KGO-TV on Wednesday, Thomas said it's now been nine years since he first realized he was locked out of his account, which means he's had ample time to process it.

"There were sort of a couple weeks where I was just desperate, I don't have any other word to describe it," Thomas said, recalling how he felt when he first learned he couldn't find his password in 2012. "You sort of question your own self-worth. What kind of person loses something that important?"

But "time heals all wounds," he added, and over the years he said he has "made peace" with his loss.

"It was actually a really big milestone in my life where, like, I sort of realized how I was going to define my self-worth going forward," he said. "It wasn't going to be about how much money I have in my bank account."

That's all great and altruistic, but losing $220 million?! That's sure to stress out even the most genuine of people.

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It looked like an ordinary letter, delivered with all the rest of the mail to Daniel Levinson's San Francisco home.

Thomas said since the New York Times profile, hundreds of people around the world have reached out to him with advice -- some serious and others silly.

"One person suggested, have you tried the word 'password'?" he joked. "Some people have recommended various mediums, psychics, prophets that I could talk to. Some people are suggesting nootropic memory enhancing drugs."

So far, he's not taken anyone up on it.

Ian Sherr, Editor-at-Large at CNET News, explained that Thomas' situation is not that uncommon. "The way that Bitcoin works, and that this technology works, is that it's all meant to be anonymous," Sherr said. "But a lot of this data is actually hidden behind a specific password that you have to get into your account."

Sherr said there are many people who bought Bitcoins years ago back when they were worth very little, wrote down their password somewhere, "and just thought it wouldn't be a thing."

"And now it's worth millions," he said, "And they're sitting there racking their heads to figure out where that piece of paper is or what their password might have been."

So, what's the best advice for storing and remembering passwords?

"We had CNET recommend that you use a password manager," Sherr said. "This is a single app that sits on your computer or on your phone and it hides behind one password, and it's a good one."

(Sherr, for example, said he uses a line of poetry.)

The app then creates other passwords for you that are random and meant to be really hard to crack. "It works really well, because you don't have to remember anything anymore," he said. "You just have one thing."

Thomas said he decided to share his story in the hopes it prevents others from making the same mistake he did. He said if you do get a digital wallet make sure you have a plan to secure -- and remember -- your password.