The suspected kidnapping of a cryptocurrency exchange employee in Kiev yesterday has raised concerns over personal safety for members of the wider community. As digital asset prices soar, should holders stop bragging about their profits on social media? Or in some cases, even take measures to enhance their personal security? Personal bodyguards may soon see a boom in their own industry.
[Update: added official statement from Exmo on Pavel Lerner’s disappearance, and clarified that his title is analyst rather than director]
While the exact circumstances surrounding Exmo exchange analyst Pavel Lerner’s sudden disappearance in Kiev are unknown, it’s still a wake-up call.
Lerner was a prominent bitcoin identity in Ukraine, known as an IT entrepreneur and engineer — particularly in cryptocurrency mining. Witnesses reportedly saw him forced into a car by men in balaclava masks, and police are treating his disappearance as a kidnapping.
Exmo has since issued an official statement on the situation to media outlets, which reads:
“We are doing everything possible to speed up the search of Pavel Lerner. Any information regarding his whereabouts is very much appreciated. We are kindly asking you to email to [email protected] in case you are aware of any facts that might help the investigation. Despite the situation, the exchange is working as usual. We also want to stress that nature of Pavel’s job at EXMO doesn’t assume access either to storages or any personal data of users. All users’ funds are absolutely safe.”
What are the chances of that happening to a regular person, though? Slim?
Imagine bitcoin at $25,000. That’s not a radical suggestion after this year. You’d only have to hold 40 BTC to be a millionaire at that price. If you have 400 BTC — again, not an inconceivable number if you got in before 2013 — then you’re heading towards seriously high net worth.
And even if you don’t have that kind of BTC stash, perhaps you’ve been talking about bitcoin since 2013 and everyone thinks you do anyway. Family, friends, and plenty of acquaintances you don’t know so well. Maybe you don’t know them at all, but they know you.
That latter situation may be worse, because you’re still a regular person with fewer resources to protect yourself (or pay a ransom if it comes to that).
Company heads and many celebrity hodlers are probably used to being in the limelight, and have the connections to advise them on discretion and security. But bitcoin and cryptocurrency has already created several “regular guy” multimillionaires, and could create far more. Do they know how to look after themselves?
Even to date we’ve seen repeated attempts to hack, scam or delude cryptocurrency users into parting with their wealth. Many gave it up, too. We’ve seen attempted and actual robberies. To paraphrase xkcd, how secure is your wallet against a $5 wrench?
Some prominent bitcoiners have taken to making public declarations about not being that rich after all. Whether they’re telling the truth or not, it’s a prudent move.
In a now-infamous exchange recently, Roger Ver pointed out that fellow bitcoin evangelist Andreas Antonopoulos would be a millionaire now, if he’d put just $300 into BTC in 2012. Antonopoulos replied that he’d “sold” in 2013 (note he never said how much) to pay everyday expenses.
I did invest, Roger. Then I sold in 2013 to pay my rent. I didn't have disposable income to work for two years without pay and invest at the same time. I should've gone into more debt, but that would have been irresponsible towards my family who I supported
— Andreas M. Antonopoulos (@aantonop) December 5, 2017
Many interpreted Ver’s comments as “poor-shaming” and donated to Antonopoulos en masse. But there’s probably something going on at another level here.
Suppose Antonopoulos did put $300, or even more, into BTC — and as a high-profile figure in the industry, realizes this could bring unwanted attention to him and/or his family.
Ver, who publicly admits he has a wealth of BTC and other cryptocurrencies, might just be teasing Antonopoulos into revealing his stash — which Antonopoulos (quite rationally) would rather not do. Unfortunately, if that was the intent, the well-meaning donation campaign ruined it.
Even non-famous bitcoiners are joining in. One poster on Reddit recently wrote: “When asked if I have any Bitcoin I used say ‘A little.’ From now on it’s going to be ‘No, wish I did though.'”
In a way, newly-minted crypto-millionaires are like lottery winners. And for decades now, lottery winners have become targets — for scammers, begging letters, blackmailers and worse criminals.
Not to mention the surprise tax bill that comes with a windfall, which can often be ruinous. Criminals aren’t the only opportunists, governments are also keenly interested in how much you’ve been making and want their share. (Note: we’re not advocating you do anything illegal to avoid paying correct taxes — but showing off might get you an audit no matter how much you’ve made.)
Bitcoiners who posted online about their massive gains, or engaged in public displays of BTC ownership including vanity license plates, might wish they’d thought ahead. It’s one thing to suddenly have $500,000… but adding three zeros to that puts you in a whole other league.
If you want people to see and know you’re playing in that league, you’d better prepare to play properly.
As The Notorious B.I.G. once sang, “Mo Money Mo Problems”. For him at least, it turned out to be prophetic — and he even had bodyguards.
Do some bitcoiners actually need bodyguards? Or should they just be more careful about disclosing their hodlings in public? Tell us what you think in the comments.
Images via BitcoinTalk, BitNovosti, Wikimedia Commons, xkcd.com