Billions of dollars in Bitcoin are stolen every year. If you’re a victim of Bitcoin theft or a scam, read this article first.
I will tell you why most “recovery” services are scams, and what you should actually do.
Can a Bitcoin recovery service help get my stolen Bitcoin/Ethereum/etc back?
The first and most important thing you should know is that there is absolutely no way to reverse confirmed Bitcoin/cryptocurrency transactions. Once a transaction is confirmed on the Blockchain, there is no way to reverse it.
Beware of “Bitcoin recovery” scams
There are many “Bitcoin recovery” services that claim to be able to return stolen Bitcoin. They will have all kinds of explanations of how they do this.
Here is a debunking of the most common recovery methods:
What they promise: we will prosecute thieves and force them to return stolen Bitcoin
Why it won’t work:
In almost all cases, you won’t know the identity of the people who stole your Bitcoin. It’s nearly impossible to find out the real-world identity of the owner of a given Bitcoin address.
Even if you have a name, email address, “registered trading account,” website, etc, it will be very difficult to obtain the cooperation of the police in getting their real-world identity.
The police don’t care about “small scale” theft. In most cases, the thieves will be in a different country than you. Furthermore, unlike cash, there is no paper trail to follow. Bitcoin/cryptocurrency is generally considered “property” rather than money, and hacking isn’t given the same weight as theft of physical goods. All of this makes authorities unlikely to pursue cases.
Even when the identity of the thieves is definitely known, the Bitcoin is rarely returned. The only cases where Bitcoin has been recovered in theft has been in a class-action lawsuit (such as with Mt Gox). Even then, it usually takes thousands of victims, at least tens of millions of dollars stolen, expensive attorneys, and many years.
I’m not saying it’s impossible. Just don’t expect to send a random lawyer $5000-$10,000 (typical “recovery” fees) and anything useful to happen. It’s a scam.
What they promise: we will hack the thieves and get them to return your Bitcoin.
Why it won’t work:
First, anyone who was able to steal your money is already a sophisticated hacker. Most “hackers” prey on the technologically ignorant. Anyone capable of stealing your Bitcoin probably knows the tricks of so-called “ethical hackers”.
Second, it’s nearly impossible to find out the real-world identity from a Bitcoin address or an email address. If the U.S. government struggles to find find out who operates darknet markets, what hope has some hacker you paid $1000?
Third, even an “ethical hacker” has to break into someone else’s systems — and probably break some laws in the process. If they could someone break into people’s computers to get their Bitcoin, why should they return it to you? Why do they need you at all? If they can hack people’s computers to steal Bitcoin, they are just as likely to steal yours.
There are no credible, independent reports of anyone successfully doing this. “Ethical hackers” that return Bitcoin for cash upfront simply do not exist. It’s a scam.
What they promise: we will hack Bitcoin or brute force your private key to reverse the transaction and return your Bitcoin.
Why it won’t work:
The market cap of Bitcoin is nearly $700 billion dollars. Every single Bitcoin transaction and address is public. If someone could steal or reverse a Bitcoin transaction, they wouldn’t be helping you. They would be going after the richest Bitcoin wallets worth tens of billions of dollars. Of course, once it got out that Bitcoin could be hacked, the exploit would either be patched, or Bitcoin would become worthless.
No matter how brilliant they claim to be, it’s a scam.
What they claim: we will trace Bitcoin transaction to the service holding them, and force them to return your money.
Why it won’t work:
Chainalysis is a real thing. There are companies that keep databases of addresses used by criminals and gambling sites, and help exchanges ban those customers. Unfortunately, they can’t help you for a few reasons:
First, they have expensive products for businesses and governments than the random recovery service you found online probably doesn’t have access to.
Second, the most they can do is trace which major exchange or business got your Bitcoin. At this point, you would need the cooperation of the exchange to tell you which customer made that deposit. That cooperation is impossible to obtain without a court order, which as previously explained is nearly impossible to obtain. Furthermore, thieves don’t use cooperative exchanges in the first place, since they require KYC. If they want to cash out, they are going to use some less-reputable service in a country that probably does not cooperate with your government.
Third, once your crypto hits an exchange, it’s impossible to trace what a given customer does with it next. If someone simply deposits Bitcoin with an exchange, you will never know when they take it out or move it. This is because exchanges combine all their funds, so your stolen Bitcoin will be given to whoever requests a withdrawal first. It will not be withdrawn by the person who deposited it.
Fourth, criminals don’t keep Bitcoin at exchanges. In my experience, they will either sit on it for years or cash it out immediately. They are not stupid enough to keep it where it can be confiscated, however unlikely that is.
It’s a scam.
It is nearly impossible to return your stolen cryptocurrency. Don’t lose more of your money in vain.
Am I wrong? Are there other “recovery” methods I forgot to mention? Please let me know below.
So what should I do?
First, there is a small qualification that unconfirmed transactions can be reversed or canceled. In a few cases, I’ve been able to reverse transactions that haven’t confirmed yet. It’s rare and requires immediate action. Usually, this happens with wallets that receive mining payments, as they require much higher fees to confirm.
Second, if your Bitcoin keys, logins, seed, etc have been leaked or exposed, but the thieves have not yet sent it away, you must act immediately to transfer it to a new private wallet.
Third, realize that if someone has stolen your Bitcoin, you may still be vulnerable to theft. You probably did something wrong or were exploited by someone who can do it again.
Don’t go out and buy more Bitcoin. You need to perform a security audit to understand how it was stolen. You may have a keylogger tracking all your keystrokes, or a root exploit that allows someone to access all your files. Educate yourself. Learn about the most common cryptocurrency scams. At a minimum, read my article on how to safely store Bitcoin.
Fourth, make sure your crypto was really stolen. You should see a transaction to an address that does not belong to you on a date/time you did not make any transactions. If you’re not sure, ask for help. If you don’t see an outgoing transaction, it was probably not stolen – you’re doing something wrong.
Fifth, if your Bitcoin was stolen, and you held it before August 2017, check to see if the BCH/BSV forks have been claimed. Do this immediately, before the crooks do.