You already took care of all the digital precautions. Strong passwords, updated systems, antivirus, locked wallets, printed seed phrase. Your bitcoins and cryptos are safe, right? Well, beyond some millionaire crypto-scams, you certainly should be okay. Except if you’re a victim of a physical bitcoin attack.
Is that even possible? Yes. And not because someone pickpockets your wallet, but because if you have a gun pointing at your head, you surely will remember all your passwords instantly. We must say the physical robberies of cryptos aren’t as usual as the digital attempts, but that doesn’t mean they can’t happen. They’ve happened. It could happen to anyone.
The developer Jameson Lopp, who was a victim himself, created a list of documented physical bitcoin attacks. The number of them is 67 since 2014, being the last one in February 2021. Of course, the real figure is higher, since these are only some noticeable cases.
Let’s check the biggest ones on the list by amount robbed (and not yet by the severity of the attack).
Kidnapping a friend in Manhattan
Maybe “friend” is a strong word in this one, especially after the bitcoin attack. By November 2017 in Manhattan (NY), Louis Meza somehow knew that an acquaintance (or friend) of him had a millionaire Ethereum wallet. He decided then to make a deal with a Bronx biker gang to steal the money.
So, Meza arranged a meeting with the victim. When they were leaving, Meza insisted on calling a supposed Uber to his friend. It was a minivan, and the crypto-millionaire boarded in without suspecting that they would be kidnapped for hours there. An accomplice of the driver and Meza was hiding in the front seat and threatened the victim with what appeared to be a real gun.
Then, they robbed their (physical) wallet, their phone, and, most importantly, the keys of their house, their seed phrase to access the ETH, and the location of their digital wallet. All this was provided to Meza at some point, and while they kept the victim in the car, Meza and another man broke into their apartment.
They found the wallet with around $1.8m in ETH, stole it, and left the building. Soon after, Meza transferred that amount into his personal account. But the victim was able to escape and the building had a lot of security cameras. As a result, the four criminals were indicted and most of the cryptocurrencies were recovered. We don’t believe that friendship survived, though.
Dubai gang bitcoin attack
Also in April 2018, two Asian brothers were looking for a Bitcoin seller in Dubai. They had 7m dirhams (around $1.9m) to spend in the cryptocurrency. So, they were lured into an office, and there they found ten men who assaulted them, tied their hands, and left them locked in a room.
Actually, the office was for sale and the owner had left the keys temporarily to the criminals, who posed as potential buyers. Once out with the money after the bitcoin attack, they escaped to other areas of the city and left no evidence behind. Luckily for the victims, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at Dubai Police and its AI tools were able to locate, catch and arrest the gang in only 48 hours.
Indian cops and scammers yearning bitcoins
In April 2018, ten Indian cops were accused of kidnapping and extortion by the Surat-based businessman Shailesh Bhatt. He alleged then that the policemen kidnapped his partner, his driver and him, and force him to transfer 200 BTC from his phone to their leader’s wallet. By the time, that was around $2.1m.
The policemen accused were arrested, but there’s a plot twist in this story. As the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of the region discovered later, it seems like Bhatt, the supposed victim, obtained those bitcoins through a fake land deal with the real owner, Somesh Patel. This, additionally, “in the name of a religious sect”.
Besides, Bhatt himself also kidnapped and extorted Dhaval Mavani, the administrator of a Ponzi scheme with bitcoins. He did it to recover his investment, but the amount robbed from him in Bitcoin, Litecoin, and cash ascended to Rs 155 crore (around $21.3m). Bhatt, of course, was arrested too.
Car abduction at Moscow
Yury Mayorov, the co-founder of cryptocurrency PRIZM, was happily walking in nocturnal Moscow (Russia) by February 2018. Then, out of a sudden, he was attacked by four men in Isakovskogo Street and forced into a Mercedes car. The criminals beat him and robbed him of $20,000 in cash (that he just exchanged for a trip), three iPhones, and his laptop with access to a 300 BTC wallet. In dollars, at the time, were around $3.1m.
The whole nightmarish ride ended less than eight hours later. They also forced Mayorov to take an unknown pill with vodka, which sent him to the hospital before he could report the full incident to the authorities. Additionally, around the same date, another crypto-investor in Moscow also suffered a bitcoin attack. He was mutilated in the face with a knife and forced to give up 100 BTC.
Unlucky businessman at Istanbul
A Turkish businessman was busy around November 2017 by sharing news and luxuries about his cryptos on social media. As a natural consequence, some malicious people checked the posts and plotted to steal him. Soon after, the armed gang, consisting of five people, was disguised as cops and followed the businessman to his car in Merter, Istanbul.
The thieves kidnapped him into a van, beat him, and force him to give out his Bitcoin and banking credentials and passwords at gunpoint. The victim was released only after eight hours, and with 450 BTC lost. By that time, the value robbed was around $3.2m.
Just like in the Manhattan case, these criminals didn’t bother about security cameras either. But the police did, and they also followed the stolen funds in the blockchain. Besides, one of the thieves made the same mistake as his victim: share a luxury marriage proposal on social media. When they were preparing a second bitcoin attack and had some stolen crypto-miners, the police caught and arrested them.
How to avoid bitcoin attacks
As Jameson Lopp said in another article: “Whatever your setup is for storing the majority of your bitcoin — be it hot or cold, online or offline, software or hardware — if you can access and spend it in a matter of minutes, so can a robber armed with a $5 wrench. The price for convenience is risk.”
Even though, there are some measures you can take to avoid physical bitcoin attacks.
- Don’t brag about your cryptos. Your finances must be as private as possible. The criminals have ears and eyes everywhere.
- Be sure to “decentralize” your funds. Don’t keep them all in the same wallet, but distribute them in several of them. Prepare one or several decoy wallets, and use multi-signature functions (to not being able to open everything alone) where you can.
- Your phone is practical but not much secure. Don’t use your main wallet there.
- Keep your seed phrases and hardware wallets in a safe and hidden or protected place. If you have a lot of funds, a third-party service for offline custody might come handiest than a normal residence.
- Try to complete all your financial errands during the working day and in crowded places.
- Never carry all or most of what you have with you unless it’s because of force majeure.
- Never trust in people you just knew through the Internet. If you need to make a transaction involving cash, make sure to pick the traders with the best reputation and investigate them as much as you can previous to the meeting.