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Jan. 16, 2021, 2:51 p.m. EST

Bitcoin investor is on the verge of unlocking a $220 million fortune — or perhaps losing it forever

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By Shawn Langlois

Ninth time’s a charm? For Stefan Thomas, that’s the $220 million question.

The San Francisco programmer, according to the New York Times , owns 7,002 bitcoin /zigman2/quotes/31322028/realtime BTCUSD -0.04% in a digital wallet he can’t access because, well, he lost the password. He’s tried to guess it eight times to no avail. Now, he’s got two more chances or his fortune will be gone.

The hard drive where his bitcoin is held, known as IronKey, allows users 10 attempts to crack the code before encrypting its contents forever. Understandably, it’s been a stressful time for Thomas, who years ago lost a piece of paper with the password written on it.

“I would just lay in bed and think about it,” he reportedly told the Times in an interview. “Then I would go to the computer with some new strategy, and it wouldn’t work, and I would be desperate again.”

Thomas isn’t the only one a password away from bitcoin riches. According to Chainalysis, about 20% of the existing 18.5 million bitcoin units, valued at $140 billion, appear to be lost in digital wallets.

Like many bitcoin enthusiasts, Thomas was drawn to the cryptocurrency in part because it wasn’t controlled by a country or a traditional bank. Now, he’s having second thoughts. “This whole idea of being your own bank — let me put it this way, ‘Do you make your own shoes?’ ” he said. “The reason we have banks is that we don’t want to deal with all those things that banks do.”

But don’t feel too bad for Thomas. He has held enough bitcoin to “give him more riches than he knows what to do with,” the Times reported. He’s also cashed in on Ripple /zigman2/quotes/108573966/realtime XRPUSD -0.14% , a cryptocurrency startup that he joined back in 2012.

At last check on Tuesday, bitcoin was trading above $34,000 and is now up about 320% over the past year, during which time the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -0.48% has gained 17%.

/zigman2/quotes/31322028/realtime
US : CoinDesk
46,826.01
-17.99 -0.04%
Volume: 0.00
Feb. 27, 2021 5:01p
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/zigman2/quotes/108573966/realtime
US : Kraken
0.44
-0.0006 -0.14%
Volume: 8.00M
Feb. 27, 2021 5:01p
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/zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime
US : S&P US
3,811.15
-18.19 -0.48%
Volume: 3.12B
Feb. 26, 2021 5:04p
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