The case of the stolen Bitcoin

Created at: 15 Sep 2023 Last updated: 12 Jan 2024

[Edit: 2023, November 20)
I have had some conversations with people and they seem to be confused about some pretty basic crypto stuff. Here's an interesting primer from Planet Money, it's about 25 minutes and is about money laundering with things like Bitcoin. I feel that I need to re-iterate because of confusion from many who asked, this was not a scam, this was a theft incident.

Another thing I feel I should be clear about is that This was a portion of my money, not our whole family's life savings. We now own our house and have plenty of savings. :)

And, to correct an error in the article: I also forgot to mention that I told one other party about the whole thing before the police: some person or bottas Ledger customer service.

My current theory is that someone who was coming to our house regularly took a photo of my backup seed somehow, perhaps merely out of curiosity. My seeds were on a "CryptoSteel Cassette", which can be easily photographed, our other backups were in "CryptoSteel Capsule"'s, which are very difficult to photograph, requiring deconstruction. Further I speculate that the person who took the photograph did not secure their phone and someone else found out about the photo who was more knowledgable. This third person probably stole the funds with the help of a fourth party who had the knowledge to try the backup with a fresh Ledger device and launder it through the Wasabi mixing service.

I rarely think about the incident these days. Life has moved on. But, take care of your crypto! You may not be worried about making mistakes with your own stuff, but it is useful to be worried about other people making mistakes with your stuff. It was as if I had a gun lying around the house without putting in a lock box. And, these days, I trust most of my Bitcoin with various institutions.

私は何人かの人と会話をしたが、彼らはかなり基本的な暗号について混乱しているようだった。これはPlanet Moneyからの興味深い入門書で(日本語版はない、ごめんね)、約25分で、ビットコインのようなものを使ったマネーロンダリングについて書かれている。これは詐欺ではなく、窃盗事件です。


記事の誤りを訂正する: また、警察よりも先に、レッジャー社のカスタマーサービスという、ある人物かボットにこの一部始終を話したことを書き忘れていた。(笑)。

私の現在の仮説は、定期的に家に来ていた、すでに信頼関係に問題があった誰かが、私のシードのバックアップだけを写真に撮ったというものです。私のシードは "CryptoSteel Cassette "に入っていて、簡単に写真を撮ることができますが、他のバックアップは "CryptoSteel Capsule "に入っていて、写真を撮るのは非常に難しく、分解する必要があります。この写真を撮った人物は、携帯電話のセキュリティを確保しておらず、他の詳しい人物がこの写真を発見しました。この人物はおそらく、新しいLedgerデバイスでバックアップを試し、Wasabiミキシングサービスを通じて資金を洗浄する知識を持った第4者の助けを借りて、資金を盗んだのだろう。


I was on the fence about sharing all this, but decided to share for 4 main reasons.

1. I could be wrong about my speculation that it's someone fairly close to us. Maybe someone knowledgable has a better theory. Like maybe someone we don’t know found out how much I had and cased the joint for an extended period to steal the money.

2. It wasn’t a scam or scheme, but I certainly could have done things differently to prevent this. While I feel like it's victim blaming, it's totally valid criticism. So, the story could help someone else. (Try multisig, Japan isn't as safe as it's often portrayed so hide backup better, etc)

3. There is the off chance that whoever did it may see the post and want to contact me (which would be cool, and fun [see 4]).

4. This seems more fun. It’s externalizing that there is no need for feelings of shame or embarrassment. No harboring of distrust or lack of love for people in general. So, it's peace of mind for me, but also a good story for anyone who likes true crime. (If you want some more details hit me up)
My wife and I have been saving Bitcoin since 2017. We’ve been planning to buy the house we renovated and currently rent for years using some of the money we saved. Around the end of August we were finally going to complete this process. The night after having a conversation with my wife’s father to confirm we wanted to proceed, much to my surprise I discovered that a cold wallet once holding 10.1 Bitcoin now had 0. The transaction that stole my money, which used a mixing service called Wasabi, is seen here:

Link to the transaction on

This is a nightmare. You can see it’s quite a bit of money, I basically lost most of my life savings. I was sleepless for several nights trying to figure out what happened and what to do. We’ve pretty much made peace with the whole thing at this point but it really is sad, frustrating, and remains something of a mystery. 

To put it as simply as possible before getting into the nitty gritty: Someone entered our house, they could have been invited and left unattended, or they could have entered somehow while we were gone, and stole an account number that allowed them to take all of the money. It wasn't a scam or scheme or anything, it was pretty basic theft.

We first contacted the Hyogo police. Working with them was actually fascinating and fun, particularly the Hyogo cyber division and Ako City detective on our case, who were very knowledgeable and asked lots of questions I hadn’t considered. To be honest this bit was kinda enjoyable, albeit fruitless.

We also contacted a private investigator who immediately confirmed my suspicions that the money was laundered right way. They were the first identify the name of the service I mentioned before (Wasabi), though the Hyogo police later confirmed this independently.

I have posted a bit about Bitcoin (and crypto in general) on social media, I have had many arguments and heated discussions with friends and family about it. There was even a family crisis in the recent past that also involved cryptocurrency. But, to my knowledge only a few family members and friends  are aware of how much we had. Perhaps speculation about that could have leaked, even to employees at the family company. I’m sure there are people who dislike me, but dislike me enough to steal a bunch of money?  That seems pretty hypocritical and extreme, but I suppose it’s possible. Needless to say the “suspect list” would be very long if we were to create one. But, even now, I still pretty much trust everyone; I don’t know a single person personally who I really think would do this, unless they were in a terrible situation that I’m not aware of. For instance, someone I know has a secret gambling addiction and needed to pay back loans the keep their house? Or a similar emergency situation they didn’t want to disclose. Maybe this seems far fetched, but it should illustrate the levels of speculation we’ve resorted to.

Up to this point, we have only told the police, the private investigator, and Junko’s father. We needed to inform Junko’s father because of a time constraint on our commitment to purchase the house, and in order to set up another way to complete that process.

This is the primary reason I haven’t posted about it until now. It seems highly unlikely that it could have been someone we didn’t know, and I’ll explain why I think that in a minute. Given that it’s probably someone we know fairly well, we decided not to talk about the situation until we could gather as much information as possible. Yesterday we got a phone call from the police, ostensibly saying that we shouldn’t expect much progress. I asked about posting on social media, and they said that would be a good idea, barring of course that we didn’t ignorantly start accusing our friends and destroying relationships with no basis.

So, why do we think it’s someone we know? Well, the wallet that was stolen was a Ledger Nano S. When we set up the wallet no phones were around, no computers connected to the internet. The device was purchased directly from the manufacturer and was sealed with tamper-proof packaging. We wrote down the seed words (basically a backup password, if you’re not familiar) on paper, and later transferred them to a “cryptosteel” metal plate in case of a fire or earthquake damaging the device and backup. If I remember correctly, I cut up the paper and flushed it down the toilet.

The steel plate and Ledger device sat in a cabinet for years. In fact, the two years prior to the Bitcoin being stolen, we had not moved the Bitcoin! We never told anyone about where the steel plate with the seed words was. Someone could have stolen the seed words at any point since we set up the device, in theory. But for several years there wasn’t much on there. In order to steal the seed words the attacker would need time alone in the house. There has never been evidence that our house was broken into, never a situation where things seemed out of place, and we are always careful to lock the door. In this scenario where, why did they chose the week before we were about to sell some of it? They had two years where the device had 10.1 Bitcoin on it, why now?

The device never left the house, and at the time of the transaction we were in the house with the device. The seed words were never photographed by us, nor typed on any computer or phone. In addition, the device requires a PIN to unlock, which we never shared with anyone. For someone to have taken the money while at our house at the time the transaction was made, they would have needed the Ledger, the PIN, and the password to my nearby computer with the software installed. 

The seed words are specific to the Ledger device, not a Bitcoin-only wallet. So that means someone had to have used another ledger and restored the backup from the stolen seed words. I will say now that we’ve secured everything, that the Ledger device was next to a Trezor with a similar setup. But none of that Bitcoin was stolen! The backups and devices were stored seperately. The Ledger backup was beneath some other valuables, including cash. So, why not steal that, too? This bit seems particularly strange to me.

Because the wallet and backup appear to have never left the house, I think the most likely scenario is that the attacker took a picture of the seed words. Then, later, when they were ready, restored from the backup on another ledger device and transferred to a wallet that has implemented the Wasabi mixing service. Whoever it was knew they were doing something bad, or else they wouldn't have laundered it. This isn’t that difficult of a task for a motivated person, but it’s not simple or obvious, either. So, it was someone knowledgable about cryptocurrency and Bitcoin who carried out the transaction with nefarious intentions.

Another possibility is that someone rooted around in our stuff, found something that looked valuable, didn’t know what it was but was curious enough to take a picture of the unique backup metal plate, including the seed words. Then sometime later they asked someone else for help or leaked the photo of the seed words in some other way. To me this seems like a pretty likely scenario, but I’m no expert. I suggested this to the investigators and they didn’t seem particularly swayed by what I thought was an Occam’s Razor approach.

Either way, someone was probably in our house digging through our valuables. This alone was a really uncomfortable revelation. Generally, with crypto, people have their password/seed-words stolen because they have stored it somewhere digitally. For example, putting a backup to a wallet in a Notes app is an easy way to lose your cryptocurrency. Also, whoever it was likely knew it was a Ledger. Though I guess if they didn’t know they could have just bought a few of devices from different manufacturers and tested the backup with each one until they found the Bitcoin. 
Anyway, the point is, someone invading your private space and stealing your secrets is scary and gross feeling. It was humiliating and made me feel pretty naked and vulnerable when I realized that was almost certainly the case.

Taking a step back for a moment, I want to say that Bitcoin is incredible. I’ve been working on trying to write more about it as an inspiring technology. So, I still like Bitcoin a lot, I still play and work with it, and still participate in discussions online and in private about it. I even think Wasabi is a good technology. It allows people to have privacy when they need it. For instance, if someone has a stalker or an abusive authority in their life who tracks and exploits their transaction history, someone could theoretically use Bitcoin to save or use money to escape that situation.
But, the person who did this was wrong. I understand stealing, I get it. And, I don’t think people must do or not do something just because “it’s the law.” We can instead strive to do what’s right because we understand why it’s right, in principle. As opposed to doing something because we fear it, or because we will be rewarded for it, or other sorts of behavioral power structures that don’t rely on individuals actual understanding and thinking for themselves. I am relentlessly optimistic on this topic, this life changing event doesn't sway that optimism. Sometimes it takes a long time to learn for oneself why something is right or wrong and when, though I’m thankful that the law is there as a backup to prevent things from escalating, worse and worse into moral relativism. 

I’m not sure where to go from here. On one hand, I want to know what happened. But, I’ve reached the end of what I can comfortably ascertain without starting to ruin relationships for potentially no reason. So on the other hand, we’ve kind of already moved on, and whoever stole the money has a much harsher world-view that they currently live in, and living with that kind of mistaken worldview is probably punishment enough (even if they had a very detailed justification for why to break the law). Ghosts in the abstract are real, in a way. These sorts of things, especially hurting someone in a big way like this, can haunt you in unexpected ways. Yeah, this event hurt me. The Bitcoin represented 6 years of hard work, learning and saving.
I may have lowered my chances of being contacted by the perpetrator just by writing all this. But, on the off chance that whoever stolen the money reads this and does ever want to contact me, please do! You could even contact me anonymously!Likewise, if a friend has a mutual friend who suddenly buys, like, a 200k car or something and that seems out of character or something, let me know! Maybe I can reach out and try to figure out what happened between us to justify this whole thing.
In the end, one could say that my skirt was too short and it was my fault. How about: I didn’t store my seed words in a safe enough place, so I deserved it. Or, for awhile in 2021 I thought about using Casa’s more secure multisig service. I’m really wishing I had followed through with that process, but didn't, so it's my fault. Or one could argue that it’s my fault for using a dubious and dangerous new technology, and I have been punished for my Icarus-like hubris. But, it wouldn't it be better if people didn’t justify doing wrong things that hurt people and then blame their the people they harmed for it?

I'm happy the person who stole the Bitcoin exists. I'm not happy they stole the Bitcoin. I'm happy to keep going about my life, I can't probably ever get another 10 Bitcoin, but I'll probably earn back the cash that 10 Bitcoin is worth (in today's dollars) in 5-10 years. And I'll enjoy doing it because I like working and I love people. It's just sad, and it's ultimately bad not just for me and anyone else who could have their money stolen—but the mislead person themselves!
If anyone else out there has some comment on contribution, please let me know. But, FYI, I have already considered that it is in fact I who traveled back in time and stole the money from myself, so don’t worry about that one. Hopefully this is useful to someone besides me. Thanks for reading 🙂










私はソーシャルメディアにビットコイン(および暗号全般)について少し投稿したことがある。友人や家族とビットコインについて何度も議論し、激論を交わした。最近も暗号通貨が絡んだ家族の危機があった。しかし、私の知る限り、私たちがいくら持っていたかを知っているのは数少ない家族や友人だけだ。もしかしたら、ファミリーカンパニーの社員にまで、そのあたりの憶測が漏れていたかもしれない。私のことを嫌っている人がいるのは確かだが、大金を盗むほど私を嫌っているのか? かなり偽善的で極端に思えるが、可能性はあるだろう。もし「容疑者リスト」を作るとしたら、非常に長くなることは言うまでもない。しかし、今でも私はかなりみんなを信頼している。私が知らないようなひどい状況にない限り、本当にこんなことをすると思う人を個人的に一人も知らない。例えば、私の知り合いが秘密のギャンブル中毒で、家を維持するためにローンを返す必要があったとか?あるいは、同じような緊急事態に陥っていて、それを公表したくないとか。遠回しに思えるかもしれないが、この時点で私たちがどの程度の憶測に頼っているかを示すものだろう。 


では、なぜ知り合いだと思うのか?盗まれた財布はLedger Nano Sだった。財布をセットアップしたとき、周囲に電話はなく、インターネットに接続されたコンピューターもなかった。デバイスは製造元から直接購入したもので、改ざん防止のパッケージで密封されていた。私たちはシードワード(基本的にバックアップパスワード)を紙に書き留め、火災や地震でデバイスやバックアップが損傷した場合に備えて、後で「クリプトスチール」の金属板に移した。私の記憶が正しければ、紙を切ってトイレに流した。







しかし、これをやった人は間違っている。盗むことは理解できる。そして、"法律だから "という理由だけで、人が何かをしなければならないとか、しなければならないとは思わない。その代わりに、なぜそれが正しいのかを原理的に理解しているからこそ、正しいことをしようと努力することができる。恐れているからとか、報われるからとか、個人が実際に理解し、自分で考えることに依存しない行動的な権力構造とは対照的だ。私はこのトピックに関してあくなき楽観主義を貫いており、今回の人生を変えるような出来事もその楽観主義を揺るがすものではない。物事がどんどんエスカレートして、道徳的相対主義に陥るのを防ぐためのバックアップとして法律があるのはありがたいことだが。