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Ask HN: Lost $400k USD in a deleted email, how contact a Gmail engineer?
139 points by lostethpresale 112 days ago | hide | past | web | 79 comments | favorite
On the 8th of June 2014 I purchased 1970 Ethereum from the Ethereum Foundation Presale and received an email to my Gmail account containing my wallet. As CS student overwhelmed by his thesis I managed to completely ignore the backup instructions and instead left my wallet in my Gmail account. At least the thesis was good :)

You can probably tell where this story is going. I promptly forgot about this whole event and in 2015 while cleaning out my email account I deleted most of my recently received emails and incidently taking out the wallet with it. Again I'd like to state that the loss of the wallet is completely my fault.

Recently, the price of Ethereum has skyrocketed to over 200 USD per coin, meaning the wallet is now worth ~400k USD. This means that I can now offer a nice bounty on its retrieval!

I'm publicly posting here in the hope that someone from the Gmail team can check and see if they have a copy of the email saved in Google's backups. Should its contents be retrieveable, I'd like to offer 20% of the wallet's contents (~80k USD) as a finder's fee, alternatively if you choose to forfit this, I'll donate 50% (~200k USD) to a charity of your choice.

I realise that this is a last ditch attempt and that wallet is most likely lost forever.

This brings us to the morale of the story - "make sure you have backups and they work!" The 2nd morale is - "no matter how badly you mess up, at least you aren't the guy that deleted an email worth 400k!"

If you work on Gmail and you can help or know someone that will lead to its retrevial please contact me [at] lostethpresale@doge.st

Best wishes!

If you want, you can encrypt your mail to me with my public key: (text too long for HN) https://pastebin.com/raw/zgZpSKJd

Throwaway because I work at Google (but not on Gmail) and don't want to associate any of my HN posts with anything even remotely related (as a matter of personal policy).

That said, you're out of luck. Google has pretty strict data policies, and if a user deletes some their data (e.g. an email), it's my understanding that we're required to purge it from our all our systems (with maybe a couple months or so of leeway since we've got a lot of users and a lot of data). After a couple years of being deleted? Yeah, that email is gone. Forever.

I doubt you are going to have much luck, probably best to forget the whole thing and move on. I mined 100BTC back in 2009/10 and then never backed up the wallet or bothered with the private keys because it wasn't even worth a dollar, today it's worth $221,711. I always comfort myself that I would have sold out when it hit $8/BTC or even less. No use crying over spilled milk.

The same exact thing happened to me. I definitely would have cashed out when bitcoin peaked at $14, assuming I didn't lose them all in the Mt. Gox boondoggle or something.

I always say it's like the person who left their baseball cards at their mothers house, and then learned 30 years later that one was worth $100k or something. They talk about the money they could have had if their mother hadn't thrown our their cards.

The thing is that if you had valued them at all, then you wouldn't have left them in the basement at your mother's house.

Edit: Actually, as a more recent point, I also received a bunch of Beanie Babies when I was a kid. I had a set of 1st gen dinosaurs that ended up being incredibly valuable. Of course they were toys, and I had chewed on them, because I chewed on everything when I was very young. The set is still really valuable, with sold listings in the hundreds of dollars on eBay to this day.

It's kind of ridiculous to think "What if I hadn't chewed on them." You'll never enjoy anything if you don't use it because it might be valuable. That's a great way to become a neurotic hoarder.

Back around the summer of 2010 I decided to play around a little bit with Bitcoin mining while I was looking for a job after college. For a couple of weeks I let the computer mine and accumulated what amounted to pocket change, then gave up and forgot about it.

I've spent many hours over the past year or so digging through old burned backup CDs, DVDs, and hard drives trying to find the wallet, with no luck so far. Maybe someday.

If it makes you feel better, unless you had a good GPU, what you earned might not have been worth more than a few thousand dollars (at current BTC prices). Though the difficulty was certainly much less in 2010, so who knows.

Here's a chart of the difficulty history. Difficulty at the start of 2010 was 1. Just one. By 2011 it was 18K, by 2012 it was up to a million, and by 2014 it was a billion.

In early 2010 it would still have been CPU mining. I couldn't find exactly when GPU mining started, but it wasn't available at first.

There were no mining pools yet either, so if he successfully mined any blocks he got a full 50 BTC each time, or over $100,000 per block.

So he should probably keep looking for his old file.


I mined 100BTC on my CPU in like the summer of 2010 solo mining. I attempted to do GPU mining but the tooling was very specific at the time and I wasn't really that interested. I didn't even fully understand BTC at the time past "Digital Currency", "Proof of work", "Run minner = get BTC". I want to say the block size was 50 at the time so mining 2 block all on mine own on a CPU was pretty impressive IMHO.

That's basically the state I was at as well. My exact thought was something like, "A currency that you make by running a program like 'Folding@Home'? Might as well try."

Even if I didn't actually mine a ton, it still would be neat to find it. I know it's gotta be there somewhere.

I know mine is long gone, my old gaming rig was what I mined it all on and I've rebuilt that machine with different OS's a million times over since I mined it and rarely backed up anything but maybe some media. Everything I cared about was on my laptop.

Do you have any old phones that you synced with POP3? Windows Mobile? Outlook or Windows Mail? Ever connect it to Thunderbird? (Be careful with anything IMAP, check offline) Can you contact the sender of the email and see if they can get a copy from their sent archive? Ever download a Google Takeout archive? Try Google Takeout anyway? Try POP3 sync, then reset POP3 status and resync?

I assume you already tried this, but here is google's data download page:


If it aint in there then I assume it's gone and only the NSA and/or GCHQ will have a copy.

Cue a black budget program of retrieving all the lost cryptocurrency and selling it off.

someone at the NSA is $400k richer!

There's a chap I know in the Ferrari owners club who works at GCHQ. I'll ask him if he knows anything about unclaimed wallets. Oh wait...

This is designed for emails missing in case of account breach, but it is worth a shot:


you should give this a try

My wife always says that growing up, all her dad and brother used to talk about at the dinner table was "I should've invested in that stock when it was cheaper!" or "I should've sold when it was higher!"

I feel that way about Bitcoin/others. It's always regret all the way. It's like buying a stock.

I had a chance to mine lots of bitcoins in 2011... never got around to doing it. It's now the same as "I should've bought Apple stock the day before the rumored iPhone debuted, like I told friends to do"

You always remember the successful investments you didn't make, but not the unsuccessful ones. Think of all the money you didn't lose making bad investments.

If you're a little faster than average on the draw and have money to burn, the profits from the successful investments outweigh the money lost on the unsuccessful ones. E.g. if you have $50k, and spend it on five companies, only one of those companies has to be Apple for you to make way more than you started with...

Apple isn't a '1 in 5' company, though.

Agreed! I have a couple of those as well, but you're right, you tend to forget them.

My grand dad quoted a "mentor" about stocks:

It's a sorry game! - You're sorry you buy - You are sorry you did NOT buy - You're sorry you sold - You are sorry you did NOT sell it!

Do you remember your password?

From the Ethereum presale message:

    You are about to make an ether purchase. Please keep the attached wallet file safe. It will serve as a cryptographic receipt of your purchase, along with your password.

    The password you created and entered on the sale site is the key to your ether so please do not forget it. And please note: there are no mechanisms in place that will enable the Ethereum team to help you recover a lost password. Once it is lost, your purchased ether will be permanently inaccessible.

You might want to ask a lawyer to subpoena them. Time is ticking - I believe backups are held for only a bit of time.

This is probably the only real hope. Problem is you cannot subpoena Google without first filing a lawsuit. So, you'd need to come up with a legal basis to file a lawsuit in which this document would be relevant. And then you'd have to serve a subpoena on Google.

You could potential have a lawyer serve a document preservation request on Google before a lawsuit is filed. But I'm not optimistic they'd listen to it.

You are in awfully good spirits for someone who may have lost $400k. In 1999 I passed on an opportunity to buy a working Apple I for $10k.

Although this fail is a bit expensive, I'm optimistic that more opportunities will come.

They sure will. Don't worry.

One of mine: a few years ago I almost ported over (it was 99% done) an interesting piece of technology to mobile. Something fairly technical and low level. In the end I thought it wasn't possible to get it working, so called it a day.

Five months later some other guy ported the exact same thing, and made a million euros. It was something that basically marketed itself; something you upload to the App Store and it would've sold. So that money would've been mine.

And then I revisited my old code, and noticed I _could_ have gotten it working.

It happens. Ah well. I still made plenty from other apps.

Yup, I bought a ETH & $6 late last year during the spam attacks and panick sold at $15-$12 Early this year. Now the pice is $200+ per ETH

Now I am looking foward to RChain https://www.rchain.coop

Interesting, I thought RChain was dead after they split from Synereo and I didn't see any news on the rchain subreddit. Will definitely keep an eye on this.

You are young. I promise you that life will present you with challenges and rewards in the future that will make this seem like nothing. Put it behind you, close the door, lock the door, and move on.

Hilarious par for the course HN response. Zero empathy for OP. "Oh you only lost 400K. Since it didn't happen to me, it's not a problem."

Anything completely outside your control ought not to be viewed as a problem. A circumstance, reality, boundary condition... yes. But not a problem.

Purchasing cryptocurrency, deleting the only copy of the wallet a year later, then posting on a forum two years ago that "please give me back all this money"?

If this was outside OP's control, what in the world is inside it?

Now that its gone, its gone, save this last ditch effort.

He didn't "lose" 400k. He lost whatever was in the presale and he learned a really valuable lesson. He'll never forget it.

When the worst thing to complain about is an altcoin investment gone bad, you are doing pretty well in life. It's not about empathy, it's about perspective, and the OP is gonna need the latter to get past it.

He probably got the 1970 ETH during the presale for ~500 USD.

That's quite a bold promise.

Marriage, divorce, your first child, death of a family member, professional success, getting fired, etc., etc. Life is quite a ride.

Can't you contact the Ethereum Foundation, shouldn't they have the email in the outgoing emails?

What an interesting time to live in, when one can stock and even loose 400k in one email / text file!

Good luck anyways, hope you find them back.

Did you ever use any other mail client to connect to Gmail?

If so, there might be a way, i.e. from an uncompressed mbox file or similar.

This is definitely your best bet. Were you using an iPhone or an iPod Touch in that time window? Maybe iTunes still has a backup of the device in its backups folder? If you were using Mail.app, also check your Mac's Mail Downloads folder. It's totally possible the attachment was downloaded and not deleted when the email was. On my machine, that folder is full of ancient files for some reason.

Also if you power on any old devices to look for the email, put them in airplane mode ASAP!

What about contacting Ethereum Foundation? They must have that mail.

Full email:

Ethereum Ether Sale Backup Wallet

You are about to make an ether purchase. Please keep the attached wallet file safe. It will serve as a cryptographic receipt of your purchase, along with your password.

The password you created and entered on the sale site is the key to your ether so please do not forget it. And please note: there are no mechanisms in place that will enable the Ethereum team to help you recover a lost password. Once it is lost, your purchased ether will be permanently inaccessible.

Please ensure that a main copy and one or more backup copies of this wallet file are stored separately and securely. If you lose access to all copies of your wallet, you will not be able to access your purchased ether and it is not possible for the Ethereum team to reconstruct a lost wallet.

Once you have saved the wallet file from this email to your computer and securely stored multiple copies of it in different locations, you should expunge this email (and any copies of it) from your email system to further ensure that no unauthorized person gains access to your wallet and attempts to crack the password that locks it.

Once the official client is launched with the blockchain going operational (projected to be Winter 2014-2015) you will be able to import the private key stored in the wallet file and start using your ether on the network. And please note that Ether purchased in this sale is not usable on our proof of concept series clients. They use test-ether.

I'm looking in that email. Quote: "it is not possible for the Ethereum team to reconstruct a lost wallet."

Maybe they don't have the key but prove that they sent you a key. then maybe your lawyer will be able to force a hardfork. In which case you'd get killed by the community; which is worth it.

That would be a dangerous precedent.

Even if you can find someone to do it, no Google engineer will be allowed to retrieve this email and then take the bounty. But good luck, I do hope you can get it recovered!

I talked with some people who work in Data Retention at Google and they said this wasn't possible...

Have you tried gmail support already? If you haven't then I would say you should try that first. Going on Social media usually is best after you have exhausted this option. Also, offering compensation to Google employees is probably frowned upon by Google.

Does Gmail have "support"? I tried Googling it and every road just seems to lead to a generic knowledge base page.

gmail support = AI

security related support = same AI, just slower response

escalate to manager = talk to a different AI

write a salty article, get it published on NY Times = talk to a human

Contact Ethereum Foundation on their website email, tell them your email address it was sent to and get them to resend you your UTC.json file

Great suggestion. Also the OP may cross post this on https://www.reddit.com/r/ethereum/

So since there are many eyes here, I'd like to hijack a little. I have some old wallet files from a year ago - armory_xxx_encrypt.wallet, bitcoinwallet.dat, dogecoinwallet.dat and a key backup PFX. I haven't looked at cryptocurrencies since, and so don't even know what tool I'd use to check the value of these wallets. Can anyone advise?

Yes, send these files to me via email and I'll send you a personalized value report, free of charge. (just kidding of course)

Probably it'd be best to install old versions of armory etc and export raw keys, then import it to new wallet. Or if you just want to check then export only public keys (addresses). You can check the amount on blockexplorer.

Might be a stupid question, but if you have any hardware from between that moment and the moment when you removed the email, which run Outlook or any other program, that makes local copies of files, you can try to disable its connectivity and get wallet from it.

At least you should try to get your account number from the Ethereum Team. Then monitor your account once a year or so. in the unlikely event that someone (ex GHCS / google admin, ai, hacker, ...) ever sends money from your account there are ways to get them.

I did Ethereum development for a Dutch city over a year ago and because of that (and the low price) I had a lot of Ethereum. When the project was done, I removed the VM I was working in. Shit happens.

This was so painful to read. I mean.. just.. ouch! I really hope you find a way to get it back. Some lessons in life are really valuable even when they sting. This one is just kind of cruel, ha.

Don't go roamimg through old bitcoin threads on Reddit then.

You'll find grave yards of people that panick sold during the Mt Gox meltdown. There was this one guy who dropped his entire life savings on bitcoin when it was $850 and then sold at $350. I think the math turned out to be in the multiple millions had he held the same amount today.

Contact the ethereum foundation through their website, give them your email address and get them to resend your utc wallet to you?

Good luck, I will be following this story closely.

That's hilarious! I did something similar. No idea where that massive chunk of ETH went to. C'est la vie!

Should not ETH have a record of your purchase email and amount? It likely is recoverable in some fashion.

The way I understand it is that the purchase email contained the keys to the wallet. It'd be extremely irresponsible if they kept that.

If somebody could edit the spacing that would be great as well.

You may wish to state that you can (or can't) prove that the Gmail account is yours, and that you opened the Gmail account personally. I believe Gmail provides a discrete set of one-time keys upon account generation.

I don't think you read the post. He has access to his account, he's looking for an e-mail he deleted 2 years ago.

> He has access to his account

Well, he has access to an account in which he believes an email with valuable information was once deleted by the owner of the account. Whether this is one person or two is not determined.

I'm sure my login history + 2 factor + geographical location + personal information inside would be enough to establish me as the owner.

Hopefully there is more of a solid track record than your brand new account here that you created exactly 5 minutes before posting this thread.

The advice in this thread is good. It's certainly true many Google employees read this forum and so this is a convenient place to find them for private work without creating a electronic record trail on Google's own servers. However, doing an end run around Google in order to find an employee there willing to violate their employment agreement and possibly commit crimes because of an offer of large financial compensation is not an appropriate use of this discussion forum.

I own (and still own) my gmail account.

Contacting ethereum foundation is your best bet.

Good luck, and keep us posted :)

This literally depresses me.

lost 1 bitcoin when Cryptsy went under, I thought I was unlucky..

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