How can I recover my bitcoins that I forgot all about?
November 11, 2015 7:11 AM   Subscribe

A little over X years ago, I traded for about $1500 worth of bitcoin off mt. gox (I'm PRETTY sure about that). I then set an alarm to go off in 7 days so that I could check on it to see if I'm making money or not. Shortly after, I received horrible news over the phone, and I had to leave the country for 9 months. A little while ago, an alarm on my calendar went off. I had set the alarm for X years and 7 days instead of just 7 days. It doesn't make sense, but it explains how I never remembered this. I have no idea where I put anything!?

I had an email address, but I can't find anything there anymore (.Mac shut down or changed). I have my old computer in the attic, but it doesn't have any "bitcoin" folders. Its slow, but is the same computer with the same files from back X years ago. I'm pretty sure it hasn't been reformatted. Am I screwed if it has been?

All I remember is that I got a "wallet" which is a private string of text and a public string of text. Then I gave out the public string of text to somebody on the internet who deposited $1500 worth of bitcoin(at the time) to that address. I confirmed the transaction at the time, so I know I received the bitcoins. I can't make contact with the trader anymore, nor do I have any of the communications with the trader. My side of the trade is not available as there is no "receipt". (Yeah, yeah, dealing with cryptocurrency doesn't really give you access to "May I speak to the manager, please").

In order for me to be able to access the bitcoins, I have to have the private string. What did I do with it? I would have stored it right on my hard drive, or a USB drive (I have some, but I have no idea if they are even that old anymore). I don't even know how I would have stored it, as its just text. Maybe in a file. ?! Thats the only thing I can think of. I would have not consented to having it stored on any website.

I am not a bitcoin expert and that was my very cautious investment into bitcoin. I seriously wanted it to go to $10/bitcoin and then I would have "retired" from the "risk of playing the market". I'm freaking out now because that was a joke, and now its serious; its about $360/BTC. This would change my life. Any suggestions would be helpful.

You can email me I am distraught.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Were I in your shoes I would first start by looking at which bitcoin wallet services were available X years ago and see if any of them rings a bell or seems like you may have used. Then try to see if there is an account recovery process or something (I'm not a bitcoin expert by any means).

Second, your .Mac account may have (should have) been migrated over to a .me account or now an iCloud account. So you may have luck logging into icloud and seeing if there is any record of your emails.
posted by eatcake at 7:31 AM on November 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

This article has some ideas. You might try asking at places like this (reddit/r/Bitcoin). You might have installed Bitcoin Wallet software on your computer--that would be something to look for. It would probably be helpful to people giving specific suggestions if we knew exactly how many years ago you were doing this--people were likely using specific solutions/software/websites at different times, and knowing these details might inform your search.
posted by flug at 7:41 AM on November 11, 2015

For what it's worth, I'm still using a .mac email, which I originally set up back when it was iTools. I can access it on the web via iCloud.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:31 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another potential line of inquiry - do you have the date of the transaction? (or if you have the public number that you gave out, you can search the blockchain for that number, which will presumably give you a date and time for when the transaction took place.)
You can then use the date to run a search of the entire harddrive and bring up only the files that were updated in that time window, then look through the results manually for anything that looks relevant.
posted by anonymisc at 11:44 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Could you have made a paper wallet? Which literally means you would have printed out the public and private keys on a piece of paper.

It might be stored in a file called "wallet.dat"
posted by muddgirl at 1:32 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

(Getting ahead of things, if you do manage to get your bitcoin, proceed with caution. I'm not an expert, but my understanding is that you probably won't be able to just cash it out in one big transaction (it'll take time and smaller transactions), and that once you start sending from your wallet, it's much harder to ensure the security of what remains in the wallet, so look into best-practices. Eg. I expect you'd want to make a bunch of new bitcoin wallets and split up your eggs into those multiple baskets, so that the whole lot isn't sitting under a single key that you've started using.)
posted by anonymisc at 3:08 PM on November 11, 2015

The BitCoin wiki says that the usual location for your BitCoin Wallet data on a Mac is in ~/Library/Application Support/Bitcoin which would contain a bunch of files, including a copy of wallet.dat if that’s where you installed the Bitcoin client.

Good luck! At least you probably have the computer in question - think of the poor guy who threw his hard drive away - somewhere in a landfill in the UK is a laptop with $milllions worth of Bitcoin on it...
posted by pharm at 3:26 AM on November 12, 2015

Also - might you have a Time Machine backup drive which contains backups from that time? Might be worth a look.

(Be super careful about asking for help on the internet about this obviously - but given that you’re asking this question anonymously I guess you already know that!)
posted by pharm at 3:31 AM on November 12, 2015

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