Kidnapped Bitcoin Exchange Exec Freed After Paying $1 Million Ransom

bitcoin exchange

The director of a UK-based bitcoin exchange kidnapped earlier this week has been released after he paid his captors a ransom of more than $1 million in bitcoins.

Pavel Lerner, 40, was kidnapped on December 26 while leaving his office in Kiev, Ukraine. According to local media reports, a group of men wearing balaclavas grabbed him and forced him into a black Mercedes-Benz.

uk bitcoin exchange
Photo from Pavel Lerner’s Facebook Page

Lerner is an executive at EXMO, a UK-based cryptocurrency exchange that processes approximately $100 to $125 million in trades on a daily basis, primarily against the US dollar and the Russian ruble.

After spending nearly two days in captivity, Lerner was released on December 28 after paying a ransom of more than $1 million in bitcoins, according to a report in the Financial Times.

“He was kidnapped by an armed gang for the purpose of extorting bitcoins,” Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukranian official, told the publication, adding: “We have operative information that he paid more than $1m worth of bitcoins.”

Geraschenko said that Lerner was in a “state of shock” when he was released and was “very lucky that he remained alive.”

On Thursday — while Lerner was in captivity — EXMO revealed that it had been the subject of a DDOS attack, but it is not known whether the two incidents are related. The exchange assured users that, even in Lerner’s absence, the trading platform was operating as usual and that user funds remained safe.

As BlockExplorer explained its previous article on Lerner’s kidnapping, the incident is the latest in a small but growing trend of individuals being targeted by criminals for their cryptocurrency wealth.

Because decentralized cryptocurrency transactions are uncensorable and, in most cases, users retain control of their holdings, cryptocurrency executives and investors prove to be attractive targets for criminal enterprises.

Consequently, users should recognizing the risks of publicizing both their personal holdings and their affiliation with the industry in general and take steps to secure their investments against theft, just as they would with traditional assets.

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UK Bitcoin Exchange CEO Kidnapped in Ukraine

The chief executive of UK-based bitcoin exchange EXMO has reportedly been kidnapped in Ukraine.

Pavel Lerner, 40, was leaving his office in Kiev on December 26 when he was pulled into a black Mercedes-Benz by a group of balaclava-wearing men, according to a local media report.

Lerner is the managing director of EXMO, a UK-based bitcoin exchange that processes about $100 million worth of trades on a daily basis, according to CoinMarketCap. Though based in the UK, EXMO’s most popular trading pairs are against the US dollar and the Russian ruble.

uk bitcoin exchange
Photo from Pavel Lerner’s Facebook Page

EXMO has not discussed the incident on its blog or social media channels, but the Telegraph reports that the company told a Russian broadcaster that the kidnapping would not affect the exchange’s day-to-day operations.

“We are doing everything possible to speed up the search of Pavel Lerner,” the statement said. “Any information regarding his whereabouts is very much appreciated. Despite the situation, the exchange is working as usual. We also want to stress that nature of Pavel’s job at EXMO doesn’t assume access either to storages or any personal data of users. All users funds are absolutely safe.”

On Dec. 28, EXMO revealed that it was suffering from a DDOS attack, but it is not currently known whether the two incidents are related.

Lerner’s kidnapping comes just weeks after a New York man allegedly stole $1.8 million in ether after kidnapping an unnamed victim and forcing them at gunpoint to hand over their mobile phone and private keys.

Authorities have not revealed the motive behind Lerner’s kidnapping, but both of these incidents highlight the inherent risks of “being your own bank.”

Individuals who are associated with cryptocurrency services like Lerner are obvious targets for nefarious individuals, as criminals may believe they can force them to transfer funds from company wallets.

However, as the earlier case demonstrates, ordinary cryptocurrency users are at risk, too, especially if they have publicly-revealed the size of their holdings or the fact that they invested in the markets at an early date.

Consequently, users may want to consider concealing their wealth from their family members, friends, and — most importantly — social media profiles.

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