Some lessons in life are priceless, but this one wasn't.
Image: Flickr/Matthieu Severe
There are bad days, and then there are days when you accidentally send $137,000 worth of bitcoin to somebody with no way to retrieve it.
This is apparently what happened to some unlucky person on Tuesday. A Twitter user spotted that somebody sent a bitcoin transaction amounting to roughly $5, but with a fee of 291.241 bitcoins, or $137,081.31, attached. This massive fee didn't go to the intended recipient—they only got the fiver—but instead went to the person in the bitcoin network who processed the transaction.
According to the Twitter user, whomever sent this transaction likely meant to send the $137,000 to someone they knew, and just wanted to attach a $5 fee as a thank-you to the payment processor, but got it mixed up. Instead, they sent their pal enough change for a Starbucks coffee, and a bitcoin company enough cash to buy a new Maserati.
Since bitcoin wallet addresses are anonymous, it's not apparent who sent or received the $5, but the big winner—the payment processor, or miner—was a company called BitClub Network. BitClub Network's site says they run a mining pool in the Netherlands, which means that they enlist people all over the world to contribute computing power and then pay out the dividends. I've reached out to BitClub Network for comment, and will update this article if I hear back.
But, you may be wondering, how could this happen? Surely, it must have been a slip-up? Perhaps one that can befall anybody caught daydreaming for a split second while using bitcoin?
The answer is, basically, no. It is not easy to do this. There are a ton of different bitcoin wallets, but Bitcoin Core, one of the most popular wallet around, has a dedicated window in its settings where the fee paid per transaction can be changed manually. Normally, this is automatically calculated by Core. The window for deciding how much to send in a given transaction is in a completely different part of the program.
I can't speak for every bitcoin wallet out there, but most automatically calculate transaction fees. Basically, without knowing how this anonymous user did this, it seems highly difficult to accidentally send nearly 300 bitcoins as a fee.
So, we're left with two possible scenarios: either some muppet meant to send $137,000 to a small bitcoin company because he really, really just likes them a heck of a lot, or somebody fucked up. Big time.
This story just got a whole lot stranger.
Last night, a Reddit user by the name David Rindfleisch posted that BitClub Network, the company that received the $137,000 reward, would give the coins back if someone could prove they owned them. If nobody claims the coins, Rindfliesch wrote, then BitClub Network will donate the funds to a "bitcoin-related charity."
Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, there are a few red flags that suggest not all is as it seems.
First, Rindfliesch does not appear to be employed by BitClub Network. His Twitter bio states that he "joined #BitClubnetwork to earn bitcoins passively everyday," suggesting that he's invested in the company's mining pool operation. A link in his bio directed me to a sign-up page for BitClub Network that names Rindfliesch as a "sponsor," suggesting that he is a part of the company's affiliate marketing program.
When Motherboard reached Rindfliesch for comment, he confirmed that he is not an employee of the company, but is a "shareholder," meaning he bought into BitClub Network's mining pool program, and refers others to the company. He told me that the message he posted came from an internal news release sent to BitClub Network members. Moreover, he confirmed that he does not know who owns the company, and to his knowledge has never spoken to an employee.
Next, Rindfliesch states that, basically, giving the coins back would be a great way to prove that BitClub network is, essentially, not a pyramid scheme. "This gives us an opportunity to prove we are one of the good guys in this industry," Rindfliesch wrote, "and despite the stigma of being an MLM [multi-level marketing business]."
Prominent bitcoin entrepreneur Roger Ver has criticized BitClub Network in the past, noting that he believes it to be a pyramid scheme. He When reached for comment over email, Ver said that "I'm very skeptical of their long term prospects for success, and despite current BitClub members misleading the public to think that I am involved, I would never get involved with something like their business."
BitClub Network has faced numerous allegations and speculation regarding the company possibly being nothing more than a high-tech pyramid scheme, and the company's owners are anonymous. The company's domain information, such as the name of the person who registered it, is set to private.
Requests for comment sent to BitClub Network's Twitter account and through their website's contact form have not been answered.
Finally, and perhaps most damning, the wallet that the $137,000 transaction came from had the entire amount sent to it in a series of 13 transactions all made on Tuesday, and all from a series of different wallets which themselves only have transactions dating back to Tuesday. This indicates that the coins were likely sent through a "mixing" service, which sends coins through a Byzantine series of wallets in order to hide their true origin.
It's worth noting that bitcoin mining is a competitive process, where each miner and mining pool races to be the first to lock down a block and its associated reward and mining fees. It's unlikely that anybody could have sent the transaction knowing with certainty that it would end up in BitClub Network's hands.
It's unclear what, exactly, happened here, but the story that an individual made an innocent mistake and sent $137,000 to an embattled bitcoin company—which they in turn leveraged to shake the perception of being shady—is looking less and less likely.
UPDATE: This is a developing story. The portion after the jump was added after the initial article was published. Rindfleischer's comments were added after he returned Motherboard's call.