Can You Recover Lost Crypto in Canada?
$1.7 billion of crypto was stolen throughout 2023 according to the most recent figures. So if you've lost crypto, you're not the only one. Due to the unregulated and often immutable nature of crypto, there's often not much you can do to recoup your loss - but at least there might be a small silver lining in your tax bill if you're a Canadian investor. Learn everything you need to know about lost crypto, what you can do, and what it means for your taxes.
Lost Crypto Statistics
A record $3.7 billion worth of crypto was stolen in 2022, and a further $1.7 billion in 2023, so while numbers are declining, a significant amount of investors are still falling foul to hacks and scams.
Not only this but of the current 18.5 million Bitcoin in circulation, an estimated 20% of this is stranded due to lost private keys.
And of course, many veteran Canadian investors will remember the infamous closure of QuadrigaCX, whereby around $250 million owed to 115,000 customers went missing.
All this to say - if you've lost crypto, whether it be due to your own mistake or a hacker or scammer, you're by no means alone - and there are some steps you can take to attempt to recoup your losses, at least from a tax perspective if nothing else.
What should I do if I've lost crypto?
The answer to this question depends on how you've lost your crypto, so let's break it down. The most common ways to lose crypto include:
Exchange hacks: Crypto exchanges present an appealing target for hackers and as such many exchanges are targeted each year. In these instances, you're not the custodian of your crypto. Legitimate and secure exchanges should have a number of measures in place, including insurance policies for consumer assets held in hot and cold storage, to repay any investors affected by a hack on their platform due to a security breach on their end. Your first port of call, if you've lost crypto due to an exchange hack, should be the exchange itself to see if any funds will be reimbursed to affected users.
Wallet hacks: Both hot and cold non-custodial wallets are growing in popularity as investors realize they present less of a target for hackers than exchanges and come with the added comfort of knowing your crypto is truly your own. But this comes with a downside too - in that your wallet is only as secure as you are. If you're not following best security practices for self-custody, your wallet presents an easy target for scammers and hackers in the form of phishing scams and more to get the info they need to get your crypto. In these instances, there's not much you can do to recover your crypto, unfortunately. But there may be a silver lining in that you may be able to use this loss to reduce your tax bill at the very least.
Lost private keys: Similar to the above, your wallet is non-custodial. Nobody is responsible for your private keys other than you - so if you've lost your private keys you might be out of luck. This said, many wallets now have a requirement for seed phrases while setting up, so provided you followed the instructions to store your seed phrase safely in case of emergency, you may be able to use your seed phrase to gain access to your wallet again. If you're unable to do so, again, there isn't much else you can do to recover your crypto - but you may be able to use it to optimize your tax position.
DeFi hacks: As the DeFi market grows, hacks are becoming more commonplace. Unlike with centralized exchanges, because you interact with DeFi protocols using non-custodial wallets, even if there's a security breach on their end - like in the instance of the recent spate of blockchain bridge hacks - it's unlikely anyone is going to be reimbursing you for your losses, although in some instances larger crypto businesses have stepped in to help reimburse customers. Although it's unlikely you'll be able to recover your crypto, in some instances - like rug pulls - you will be able to realize the loss and utilize it to reduce your tax bill and effectively recoup your losses through tax savings.
We've mentioned taxes a few times already - but in instances where you cannot recoup your losses via an exchange or other custodian - capital losses may be the only viable option for many investors to recoup at least some of their investment back.
For insights into specific strategies read our guide on paying less crypto tax in Canada.
Is lost crypto a capital loss?
So let's start with the obvious - the CRA has minimal guidance on crypto tax. As such, there is no specific guidance on whether lost or stolen crypto could be considered a capital loss.
This said, the CRA does let taxpayers deduct capital losses in the instance of theft of other capital property. As crypto is a capital property under the current guidance, it would be reasonable to conclude that you may be able to claim a capital loss for lost or stolen crypto, the same as you could for other kinds of capital property like stocks or business equipment.
A caveat though - you'll likely need lots of proof to show you have no chance of recovering your crypto, including receipts proving cost basis, the wallet address, and more.
This also means if there's a chance your exchange may refund you as they were liable for the hack, or if you still hold your crypto but it's lost all its value, like in a rug pull, then you're unlikely to be able to claim a capital loss with the CRA.
Adjusted Cost Basis
If your crypto is considered a capital loss, there's another thing you need to be aware of - the adjusted cost basis method.
The adjusted cost basis method is the only allowable cost basis method for Canadian investors. Simply put, your adjusted cost base is however much your crypto cost you to buy or otherwise acquire, plus any reasonable expenses incurred to acquire it, like gas fees or trading fees.
Why does this matter for capital losses?
Because when you claim a capital loss due to theft or loss, you aren't going to be claiming for the current fair market value of your crypto - you're claiming for the amount you actually lost, so your original investment amount.
For example, let's say you were very clever and bought Bitcoin back in 2017 for $900. You then forgot about it entirely for a couple of years and now you've realized in 2022 that your 1 BTC is worth $40,000! But you've also lost your private keys and have no means of finding or restoring them. You may be able to claim this as a capital loss (with enough proof) with the CRA - but you'll only be able to claim $900 as your capital loss, not $40,000.
What about if you lost your crypto in a rug pull?
We mentioned this above, but when your crypto plummets in value to the point it is essentially worthless - due to a rug pull for example - then you won't be able to claim this as a theft and capital loss with the CRA. You still hold the tokens, although worthless.
In these instances, you need to realize your loss in order to be able to offset it. You can do this by:
Selling your tokens on an exchange if possible.
If your tokens have been delisted, you may be able to use a native or non-custodial wallet to swap your tokens for another.
If this isn't possible, you can gift your tokens in order to dispose of them and realize a loss.
In the rare instances where a blockchain is halted and transactions are no longer possible, you may be able to claim a loss with the CRA... eventually.
Halted transactions and capital losses
Celsius, Voyager, Terra, and more... there are many victims of the latest bear market. And in many of these instances, companies, or even blockchains have entirely halted transactions meaning you cannot do anything to realize your losses.
Unfortunately in these instances, the best thing you can do is wait for the proceedings to unfold - no matter how long it takes. If at the end of proceedings, investors are unable to recoup their losses, there may be the case for a potential capital loss claim if you're still unable to access your capital. And in some instances, waiting it out pays, for example, Celsius is finally begin to pay out partial refunds.
How Koinly can help
If you've lost crypto and want to try and claim a capital loss with the CRA - Koinly can help you when it comes to tax time. All you need to do is find the relevant transaction and use the tags on the right-hand side.
When you’ve tagged any stolen crypto, you’ll be able to see this in your tax report summary under ‘Gifts, donations & lost coins'. Koinly doesn't recognize any gains on these but it doesn't deduct them as a loss either, you can then proceed to try and claim a capital loss with the CRA.