Cryptocurrencies, as the product of the digital realm, have always existed in the ether - no pun intended - meaning that physically there was nothing to hold, or to lose/have stolen. The threat for Bitcoin users when it came to getting fleeced of their digital currencies always existed online, leaving savvy investors safe offline.
Now however, thieves are cottoning on to the fact that there is a way to reach coins offline and have taken their plundering to the streets. A number of cases have been reported where Bitcoin owners are being attacked face-to-face by thieves and being forced to deposit huge amounts of digital currency into anonymous wallets.
It seems that even the usual safety measures taken online are no longer good enough, but there are some steps people can take to make sure they do not become a victim of face-to-face Bitcoin burglary.
One recent incident of an in-person Bitcoin burglary happened on the tranquil holiday resort of Phuket, Thailand in January this year. A Russian businessman was held hostage until he logged onto his computer and transferred around $100,000 of Bitcoin to his attackers.
This form of robbery is getting more and more common, but it is often sparked by people being foolish around revealing their Bitcoin balance, just as the case is when it comes to online security.
A Russian cryptocurrency investor and blogger known online as Pavel Nyashin was attacked and robbed in his home in Leningrad Oblast in January 2018. The assailants made off with 24 mln rubles ($425,000).
Nyashin was tied and beaten while a group of masked assailants stole his property, but it was not digital cash the robbers made off with. Rather, they took his safe which contained fiat currency, and some “essential documents”.
Nyashin became a millionaire thanks to his dalliances with cryptocurrency and made that news public as he boasted about his wealth online and at meetings he attended with well-known bloggers.
This kind of boasting obviously drew attention, and despite all the measures he took to secure his online assets, he still ended up a victim of robbery offline.
Problem with being high up
Sometimes however, there is no way to hide ones dealing with cryptocurrencies, and it does not come down to simply boasting about ones wealth. A high profile case involving the director of a UK-based cryptocurrency exchange proves that thieves could be lurking around every corner.
Pavel Lerner, managing director of the cryptocurrency exchange EXMO, was abducted in Kiev, Ukraine at the end of last year while leaving his office in the center of town and driven off in a black Mercedes-Benz.
Within two days after the disappearance of Lerner, it was revealed that Lerner had paid more than $1 mln to an armed gang in ransom for his freedom.
It gets ugly
What is arguably worse about these kinds of heists is that it is far more personal, and far more of an attack. Being hacked and having your Bitcoin account drain is horrific, but in a thief-in-the-night scenario these face-to-face attacks could come with physical torment.
In Moscow, towards the end of February, a crypto investor was reportedly attacked and mutilated before getting fleeced of $1 mln worth of Bitcoin.
Muggers stopped the man and demanded he transfer his holdings. When he refused, they “mutilated his face with a knife” before he surrendered his collection of around 100 BTC.
All of these attacks have come to the fore in recent times as the trend of robbers to take on people in the flesh continues to grow. Bitcoin millionaires are usually self made and not in the same boat as those who have accumulated wealth in traditional means.
Bitcoin millionaires still walk around like ordinary people, and this becomes a really easy target for those who know what they have hiden online. Online attacks are increasingly becoming more difficult as people smarten up, but some precaution needs to be taken offline too.
How to be street savvy
There are some basic things one can do to keep safe, be it online or offline. Many know the tricks of the trade when it comes to securing ones assets, but cryptocurrencies may seem so secure that people risk to lose usual vigilance.
The first thing to be recommended is technical – to set up a multisignature wallet. Wallets that require confirmation from multiple addresses to make a transaction permit allow the controlling keys to be spread out to different deposit boxes, banks, safes, and other locations. Therefore, even if one key is compromised, you still have control over your funds.
Still the most basic way to keep safe with your crypto is not to be too boastful. This is because in doing so, it is simple to make yourself an obvious target. One should refrain from publicly disclosing any information about the amount of money owned or what the controlling addresses are.
Cryptocurrency investors should develop cautiousness, as Max Niebylski, CEO of Gladius, a Blockchain-driven cyber protection network, summarised to Cointelegraph:
“Just because this info is public on the Blockchain doesn’t mean you need to go bragging about how much crypto you have or giving out the addresses to your private crypto savings."
"Keeping your crypto is something everyone should be familiar with. When it comes to looking after thousands of dollars - if not multiples of that - you should treat it with the same caution as other highly sensitive information.”
Of course, like in the case of Pavel Lerner, sometimes your reputation precedes you and a target will be on your back regardless of how private and quiet you are.
But it is also wise to remember that, when approached face-to-face by criminals, your life and physical safety is more important than some digital money. Don’t be so brave as to lose your life over money - where money is replaceable, your life is not.