Bitcoin Blunders: 5 Classic Examples of How Not to Buy, Sell or Store Crypto

troubled man at laptop with bitcoin

Even for an industry whose only holiday celebrates the day someone gave away a fortune currently worth more than $400 million for two pizzas, the March 10 tweet by @dino_dealer was particularly plaintive:

“How’s your week? Mine? I just erroneously listed @etherrock #44 for 444 wei instead of 444 eth🤦‍♂️” it read.

EtherRocks are ludicrously overpriced NFTs of slightly varying images of pixelated rock. WEI is not a cryptocurrency, but rather the smallest denomination into which ether tokens can be divided, much like pennies to a dollar.

Except that there are one quintillion WEI in an ETH, making the value of 444 WEI a fraction of a penny too small to bother calculating. At $2,279 on that day, 444 ethers were worth $1.2 million.

“In one click my entire net worth of ~$1 million dollars, gone. Is there any hope,” @dino_dealer asked.

No, there isn’t.

The problem is that crypto is an unforgiving method of making payments, as once a transaction is completed and written onto the blockchain, there is no way to reverse it other than the recipient creating a new transaction to send it back. That’s assuming either party knows the other and has any way of getting in touch.

Which means there have been a lot of incidents where incautious crypto owners have lost fortunes through a second’s distraction, selling too early or, in at least one case, an extremely inconvenient cleaning jag.

In @dino_dealer’s case, he was unable to correct his mistake — which he quickly noticed — as a bot scouring the OpenSea NFT marketplace for undervalued offering snapped it up almost immediately.

Here are some of the classics.

Bitcoin Pizza Day

Crypto’s holiday is May 22, also known as Bitcoin Pizza Day. It commemorates the first-known use of bitcoin in a commercial transaction by early Bitcoiner Laszlo Hanyecz. On that day in 2010, he typed out a fateful message in a forum for the 18-month-old cryptocurrency:

“I’ll pay 10,000 bitcoins for a couple of pizzas … like maybe 2 large ones so I have some left over for the next day. I like having left over pizza to nibble on later. You can make the pizza yourself and bring it to my house or order it for me from a delivery place, but what I’m aiming for is getting food delivered in exchange for bitcoins where I don’t have to order or prepare it myself, kind of like ordering a ‘breakfast platter’ at a hotel or something, they just bring you something to eat and you’re happy!”

Jeremy Sturdivant, a U.K. forum member, took him up on it, using — one presumes — a more traditional payments channel like Visa or Mastercard to have two large Papa John’s pies delivered to Hanyecz’s Florida home. Like Hanyecz, Sturdivant has said he spent his bitcoins well before the cryptocurrency made it big.

The rest is history, except for Hanyecz, who also spent the rest of his bitcoins. And is interviewed annually by the media for a comment on how he bought the most expensive pizza in history for however many millions of dollars the price of 10,000 BTC is at the time.

That’s $436 million today, by the way.

Don’t Crypto and Drive

On Nov. 4, 2020, an unfortunate non-fungible token (NFT) collector found out he hard way that distracted driving can be dangerous.

Earlier that day, the anonymous fan of NFT collectibles said he had bought an authorized “skin” that turned his avatar character in the blockchain-based game Wallem into am dancing image of YouTuber PewDiePie for 60 ETH, then worth $25,000, on OpenSea.

The buyer, new to the marketplace and driving at the time, told Modern Consensus that he received a notification from OpenSea. He said that he “saw something in quantity 1 and I accepted,” Unfortunately, that was a 1 ETH offer for his NFT.

“Afterwards I received an email with ‘Congratulations! You sold your NFT PewDiePie for 1 WETH.’ I started screaming and called a friend of mine, a blockchain expert, crying.”

Adding insult to injury, that skin came with rights to air-dropped crypto from an obscure blockchain that was, when it was sent to the new owner later that day, worth about $1,200.

Don’t Chuck Drives

In January 2021, Welsh IT worker James Howells realized that he had, in 2013, thrown out a hard drive — one of a pair of identical drives, the other having broken down — with the private keys to 7,500 then-cheap BTC during a cleaning jag. By that time, it had increased in value to nearly $275 million.

But he knew about when he’d thrown it out in the local dump. So, he approached the Newport City Council for permission to excavate and look for it — offering 25%, about $72 million, to the city if he retrieved it.

“Without even having heard our plan of action or without being given a chance to present our mitigations to their concerns regarding the environment, it’s just a straight up ‘no’ every time,” he told CNBC.

The problem, the Council said, is that the dig would have a huge environmental impact on the surrounding area, “without any guarantee of either finding it or it still being in working order,” a spokesperson said.

A Fishy Story

A lower-tech version of the same thing happened to one Clifton Collins, a Dubliner who had written the private keys to 12 digital wallets containing a total of 6,000 bitcoins — then worth 54 million euros — on a piece of paper he hid in an aluminum fishing rod case three years earlier, he told authorities in February 2020.

However, after Collins received a five-year jail term for dealing marijuana, the Irish Times reported, his landlord chucked a  bunch of his belongings into a trash bin destined for incineration.

Which is very upsetting to the Irish Criminal Assets Bureau, as Collins allegedly received the BTC via marijuana sales, leading to the court-authorized seizure of the cryptocurrency.