This is the best theory we've got.
Image: Shutterstock, edited by author
An 18-year-old Redditor, a mysterious benefactor, a marriage proposal, and a $600,000 cryptocurrency lottery: these are the ingredients for a strange story, even by the usual standards of the bizarro identity games that plague bitcoin.
Two weeks ago, a Reddit user pretending to be the hacker who stole $65 million from a bitcoin exchange announced that they would give away 1,000 bitcoins, worth around $600,000 USD, to one lucky person in a week's time. The post received more than 7,000 comments from hopeful people posting their bitcoin addresses, but the consensus was that the lottery was likely a troll or a scam.
That user—"rekcahxfb," or "BFX hacker" backwards, referencing the name of the hacked exchange, Bitfinex—proved everybody wrong. Well, sort of. Maybe.
Last Thursday morning, reckahxfb announced that Reddit user "TheTwistedTwo" was the winner, and 1,000 coins were transferred to the bitcoin address that TheTwistedTwo posted in the lottery thread. The coins were almost immediately moved from that wallet to another wallet. The third wallet has a public note attached that reads: "Please send me some money. I'm very poor."
Redditors and bitcoin experts alike guessed at numerous explanations for the lottery, which ranged from clumsy money laundering to pure trolling. Either way, many suspected that reckahxfb had simply sent the coins back to himself, using the alias TheTwistedTwo, or to someone he knew under that name (more on this later).
As it turns out, the skeptics were half-right: reckahxfb and the TheTwistedTwo did know each other before the lottery, TheTwistedTwo's so-called publicist relayed "verbatim" in an interview over Snapchat. But it wasn't money laundering, or trolling, or some kind of weird scam, TheTwistedTwo told me. Instead, she claims it was a marriage proposal.
"His intent was to gain this exact attention, and that intent was to propose to me"
"We met on Reddit a few months ago," she told me in a Snapchat message, relayed by a friend of TheTwistedTwo who claimed she is TheTwistedTwo's publicist. (The story was that TheTwistedTwo was driving, and so had her friend type texts for her.) "We became friends, and I'm flying to visit him next month," she said.
"His intent was to gain this exact attention," TheTwistedTwo continued, "and that intent was to propose to me."
"On another note, would you like an invitation to the wedding?" she wrote.
Despite this apparent relationship, TheTwistedTwo, who told me she is 18, said that she is convinced the lottery really was random, and that reckahxfb "proved it" to her. To TheTwistedTwo, the whole fiasco is "a love story," she told me.
As for whether she will give the coins back to her so-called beau, TheTwistedTwo said she is thinking about it—or giving the sum to charity—since "money would ruin the authenticity of our friendship."
When I asked if it was at all possible that she was being manipulated by an apparently very wealthy man into giving the lottery money back to him, as skeptics predicted would be the case, TheTwistedTwo replied that if there is a power imbalance in the relationship, it favours her. When I asked her to elaborate, she wrote "I'm not in the position to disclose such [sic]."
It's worth noting that her first message to me over Snapchat after I identified myself as a journalist was: "He told me not to talk to you."
It's a nice story, but there are some major holes in this plot. The first is the question of why rekcahxfb would pretend to be a multimillion-dollar hacker in the first place. The prevailing theory for this is that by sending the coins to an accomplice pretending to be a normal user in a public lottery, rekcahxfb could retrieve coins tied to an earlier crime while severing any obvious ties between themselves and their hacker identity and pinning it on the Bitfinex hacker in the process.
But the Bitfinex hack happened just this month, and the lottery coins were moved into rekcahxfb's wallet in 2013 and had been sitting there ever since, meaning that rekchaxfb couldn't be the Bitfinex hacker.
I reached out to Jonathan Levin from blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis, who told me that there is "definitely no connection with the stolen [Bitfinex] funds."
The coins appear to have originated with Mt. Gox, a massive bitcoin exchange that imploded after a hack left it insolvent in 2014, Levin told me. The coins were transferred to the lottery wallet from a wallet controlled by Inputs.io, a mixing service designed to obfuscate the origins of bitcoins, which went belly-up in 2013 after it lost more than 4,000 coins in a series of hacks.
Despite this rather thick air of impropriety, TheTwistedTwo told me that her husband-to-be acquired his coins legitimately.
"There are laws about giveaways in every state [...] I wonder how that all will play out if the identity of the person running the giveaway becomes known publicly"
The next major problem is that I haven't been able to communicate with rekcahxfb directly, which in the worst case could mean they simply don't exist, and TheTwistedTwo's story still doesn't make a whole lot of sense. First off, regardless of whether her friend is really a publicist or it's just a joke, you'd expect someone who just got handed $600K in bitcoin over Reddit would keep a slightly lower profile.
Moreover, the friend told me that "this isn't [TheTwistedTwo's] first brush with media," but brushed me off after I asked her to elaborate.
Finally, when I asked TheTwistedTwo whose wallet she immediately transferred the lottery coins into, she said that it was a "cold storage" wallet, meaning that the coins were transferred to a hard drive that never touches the internet, mitigating the risk of the coins being stolen in a hack.
Earlier on Reddit, TheTwistedTwo wrote, "I'm technologically challenged, and I'm not even really knowledgable [sic] about [bitcoin]."
When confronted about the disparity between her professed and actual technical abilities, TheTwistedTwo wrote, "My possibly [sic] fiance is an excellent teacher. I don't know everything but I'm good at following instructions."
It would be an understatement to say that, at this point, it's unclear what went down in one of the weirdest public spectacles in bitcoin's long history of them.
"He should have just proposed like a normal person, instead of running a fake giveaway that caused everyone else to waste their time," hacker and Cornell University professor Emin Gün Sirer wrote me in an email.
"By the way, there are laws about giveaways in every state," he continued. "You can't just run one by announcing that you're running one—giveaways of this magnitude might require posting bond, they might require ensuring that people under a certain age cannot participate, etc. I wonder how that all will play out if the identity of the person running the giveaway becomes known publicly."
Whatever happened, at least I got a (possibly fake) wedding invite out of it.