James Howells could be a very rich man, only if he can his wallet.
What happened to his wallet? Well, he simply threw it away. It all started when Howells received about 7,500 bitcoins in 2009 when they were considerably less valuable than they are today. He stored the bitcoins in a digital wallet on the hard drive in question, which he left alone for years, forgot about, then tossed into the trashcan when he did some cleaning up of his desk during summer this year. Today, a single bitcoin is now worth about $1,000, which brings Howells bitcoin value up to $7.5 million. The hard drive contains a cryptographic "key" that's needed to access and spend the bitcoins. No key, no money. The only thing that stands in between Howells and his hard drive is dozens of feet of garbage across a landfill the size of a football field in Newport, Wales. "I kept the hard drive in a drawer in my office for three years without a second thought," Howells said. "Totally forgot about bitcoin all together. I had been distracted by family life and moving house."
"I had been hearing a few stories of a chap from Norway who had bought a number of coins for a very low price and had sold them for a high price and that's when I got back into checking the price and seeing what I'd done," he continued. "When I found out what the price was, the penny dropped and I realised the coins I have 'mined' were on the drive I had thrown away.
"There was not a lot I could do."
Except, he still tried. Howells went down to the local landfill to see if there could be any change he could recover the hard drive, and that's when things became final.
"When I went to the tip the manager took me up to the current landfill site and when I saw it—it's about the size of a football field—my first thought was 'no chance'," he said.
"The manager explained that things that were sent to landfill three or four months ago could be three to five feet deep."
Howells is an IT guy, so, even he might be surprised if that hard drive survived a journey like that. But when money is on the line, it's always worth a look. Or a little more.