Yesterday, a computer and television were stolen by a team of three suspects in Saratoga, California. The three were allegedly acting as movers and helping a family to load their items into and off of a moving truck. According to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office, the three movers met the family through “a mutual acquaintance”. Things didn’t turn out so well, however, as the suspects demanded money, and paid themselves by taking a computer loaded with bitcoin.
A type of scam that has been unfortunately growing is what’s known in some circles as a movers ransom. Basically speaking, a bogus moving company or independent movers will get all of a clients items loaded onto a truck. At this point, they may drive a short distance or even all the way to the destination. Then, the swindle begins. The scammers will typically start to demand additional compensation. If the compensation is not given, scammers will threaten to take things, break objects, or simply drive the truck away with everything inside.
Since the victim is in a very weak position as all of their belongings are locked away in a truck, many of them will comply and pay extra money.
In the Saratoga case, the Sheriff’s office said:
“When [the] victims refuse to pay more than the agreed-upon rate, the three suspects decided to compensate themselves by forcibly taking the victims TV and Apple iMac computer”.
The Hidden Treasure Trove
Unbeknownst to the thieving group, the stolen computer apparently was loaded with a bitcoin wallet that held around $10,000 worth of the cryptocurrency.
What’s interesting about this is that cases like this could end up setting an important precedent for the future. In most countries, if someone is caught stealing property, the degree of punishment given is often related to the value of goods stolen. For example, stealing a bicycle is often considered a lesser crime than stealing a Ferrari.
The Suspects, Image from Apacnewswire
In the US, a minor theft is known as petty larceny. A major theft, on the other hand, is known as grand larceny, and comes with serious jail time and a permanent felony record that will follow the perpetrator for life. The law is also not explicitly clear on a dollar amount that would equal petty versus grand larceny.
But what happens if someone steals an old laptop worth say one hundred dollars, but that laptop contained one million dollars in cryptocurrency? Would the thief who stole the laptop, not knowing what was on it, be subject to punishment equivalent to stealing $1 million worth of property? To make things even more complicated, what if the thief stole a device that had keys to an altcoin stash that was nearly worthless, but then later pumped up in value massively after the perpetrator was already arrested? And what point would the value apply to the punishment, if at all?
Always Keep Backup Keys
This goes without saying, but anyone who stores cryptocurrency needs to have a way to recover access to it in the event of a stolen device.
In the case of the Saratoga theft, if the owner of the computer kept a backup of their private keys, then in the worst case they would only be out the computer and not the bitcoin. We’ve done reviews in the past on some interesting products that can help secure a 12 or 24-words seed phrase such as the Billfodl. An item like that could have prevented any major crypto loss due to physical theft of a device.
Sheriff Laurie Smith also noted that “The public should take the necessary steps to safeguard their virtual property because it is vulnerable like physical property”.
With that sage advice in mind, we recommend again not only to protect the devices that you use your wallet on, but also the private keys and seed phrases that access your funds so that you can always recover them to a new device.