- Rhonda Kampert used her recovered Bitcoin to help her daughter, Megan, through university.
- But when she saw headlines late in 2017 announcing that the value of Bitcoin had risen to nearly $20,000 she excitedly went to her computer to log in and cash out.
- She was missing some of the login details for her Bitcoin wallet.
When bitcoins were the talk of the internet in 2013 Rhonda bought six as reported by BBC.
Rhonda Kampert was an early adopter.
She bought six Bitcoins in 2013 when they cost about $80 (£60) each and were the chatter of niche corners of the internet.
“I used to listen to a radio talk show and they started talking about crypto and Bitcoin so I got interested,” she says.
“Back then buying it was so complicated but I fumbled my way through the process and bought my coins.”
Rhonda, who lives in the US state of Illinois, spent some of her digital money over the next year or so, then forgot about it.
But when she saw headlines late in 2017 announcing that the value of Bitcoin had risen to nearly $20,000 she excitedly went to her computer to log in and cash out.
It was awful
She was missing some of the login details for her Bitcoin wallet – a computer program or device that stores a set of secret numbers, or private keys.
“I realised then that my printout had missed some digits on the end of my wallet identifier.
I had a piece of paper with my password but no idea what my wallet ID was,” Rhonda says.
I tried everything for months but it was hopeless.
Fast forward to last spring and the value of Bitcoin soared above $50,000 – more than 600 times what Rhonda had paid eight years earlier.
Filled with a renewed determination to find her coins, she hit the internet and came across father and son crypto treasure hunters Chris and Charlie Brooks.
“After talking to the guys online for a while I trusted them enough to hand over all the details I could remember.”
“Eventually we sat down together on a video call and watched everything happen.”
Chris opened the wallet and there it was.
“I gave Chris and Charlie their 20%, then the first thing I did was take out $10,000 worth of my coins to help my daughter Megan through college.”
She says she’s keeping the rest locked away in a hardware wallet – a security device like a USB stick that stores her details offline.
There are plenty of Rhondas out there who need help.
One estimate from crypto researchers Chainalysis suggests that out of the 18.9 million Bitcoins in circulation, as many as 3.7 million have been lost by owners.
And in the decentralised world of crypto-currency, no one is in charge – so if you forget your wallet login details there aren’t many places you can turn to.
Chris started his business, Crypto Asset Recovery, in 2017, but stopped and focused on other projects for a while.
He then revived it after a conversation with his son, Charlie, a little over a year ago.
“I was on a break from college, and I had done some travelling but was just home workshopping business ideas with my dad,” says Charlie, now 20.
Working from a workshop in their seaside family home in New Hampshire, the father and son began receiving more than 100 emails and calls a day from potential clients the last time the price of Bitcoin peaked, in November 2021.
Now that it has dropped a little they are working through the backlog of cases.
The business is going so well that Charlie has no intention of finishing his computer science degree.
However, the pair joke that they spend their time in perpetual disappointment.
Even then, they’re often disappointed by what they find.
“Most of the time we can’t actually tell what’s inside the wallet so we have to trust the client that there is an amount that’s worth the work we put in,” Charlie says.
We were obviously very professional with him but behind the computer screen, we were like jumping around high-fiving each other, all excited about the potential payday.
“Then on the video call we cracked it open – and it was completely empty.”
In the past year, they say they’ve recovered Bitcoins totalling “seven figures” in value.
The father-and-son team are part of a growing industry of ethical hackers using their skills to help people retrieve mislaid crypto-currency.
“When you break a crypto-wallet, I mean when you break any security really, it feels like magic no matter how many times you do it,” he says.
“Cracking the wallet open was a huge adrenaline rush.
I guess it’s like a technical version of treasure hunting.”
Joe’s day job is teaching manufacturers how to secure their products from hackers but he’s now set up a wallet-unlocking side-business with his first client, Dan Reich.
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