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The Tell: He could be on the verge of unlocking a $220-milliion fortune — or losing it forever

Ninth time's a charm? For Stefan Thomas, that's the $220-million question. Read More...

Ninth time’s a charm? For Stefan Thomas, that’s the $220-million question.

The San Francisco programmer, according to the New York Times, owns 7,002 bitcoin BTCUSD, +1.41% in a digital wallet that he can’t access because, well, he lost the password. He’s tried to guess it eight times to no avail. Now, he’s only got two more chances or his fortune will be gone.

The hard drive where his bitcoin is held, known as IronKey, allows users 10 attempts to crack the code before encrypting its contents forever. Understandably, it’s been a stressful time for Thomas, who years ago lost the piece of paper with the password.

“I would just lay in bed and think about it,” he told the Times in an interview. “Then I would go to the computer with some new strategy, and it wouldn’t work, and I would be desperate again.”

Thomas isn’t the only one close but yet so far away from a bitcoin fortune. According to Chainalysis, about 20% of the existing 18.5 million bitcoin, valued at about $140 billion, appear to be lost in digital wallets.

Like many bitcoin enthusiasts, Thomas was initially drawn to the cryptocurrency in part because it wasn’t controlled by a country or a traditional bank. Now, he’s having some second thoughts about that.

“This whole idea of being your own bank — let me put it this way, ‘Do you make your own shoes?” he explained. “The reason we have banks is that we don’t want to deal with all those things that banks do.”

But don’t feel too bad for Thomas. He has held enough bitcoin to “give him more riches than he knows what to do with,” the Times reported. He’s also cashed in on Ripple XRPUSD, +3.91%, a crypto start-up he joined in 2012.

At last check Tuesday, bitcoin was trading above $34,000 and is now up about 320% over the past year, while the S&P 500 SPX, +0.16% has gained 17%.

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