E-payment systems are doing their best to reduce the odds of customers sending money to the wrong destination. But even if you do, the bank can easily quickly fix the mistake. It has all the mechanisms to locate your “unfortunate” transaction. Furthermore, the bank won’t ask for permission from the wrong recipient to retrieve the transaction. All in all, no harm done — except for the discomfort of waiting.
On the blockchain, you won’t find the comforting catchphrase in case of emergency, call this number, simply because there’s no customer support line to call. Miners take care of everything — validation, transfers, and records — but they don’t have the power to modify the transaction. The blockchain is trustless, independent, and immutable.
In this decentralized setup, the good thing is that the Bitcoin blockchain, for example, doesn’t welcome Ethereum coins and vice versa, so the chances of making a mistake are very low. However, cross-chain errors can happen, and once the harm is done, nobody can ensure the recovery of your funds.
In this article, we’ll go through the most common examples of mistaken wallet addresses and list all options you have to un-stuck your cryptocurrencies.
Can I Send Crypto to the Wrong Address?
There are at least 1,000 blockchains out there, each of which comes with its own set of rules. Given the fact that one cryptocurrency can’t travel to any other blockchain, it’s hardly likely for you to send crypto to the wrong address.
If this confuses you, let’s put it this way. Cryptocurrencies aren’t portable assets. Not only is it impossible for them to move across blockchains and dApps, but they also can’t go from one user to another. Once produced, or better said, programmed, cryptocurrencies stay in their native blockchain. So, when we buy, sell or otherwise exchange crypto coins, it’s actually the miners who label the ownership data with the private keys of the new user.
For example, you want to send some bitcoins to your friend John. He gives you his public Bitcoin address to dispatch the coins there. You store your coins (or, as we said, you store the ownership data about your coins) in your Bitcoin wallet, which has an established connection with the blockchain. Hence, you need to insert your private key to get access to your bitcoins. After “unlocking” the coins, you can send them to any other Bitcoin address. In the meantime, miners check the transaction validity, and if your transaction is valid, they attach it to the blockchain. At that point, your friend becomes the new owner.
In this cycle, if you insert a mistyped address or select a wrong address from your address book, the blockchain won’t accept the address format data. In banking jargon, it won’t deduct your coins from your wallet account.
What Happened With My Crypto?
The problem is that many of the 1,000 existing blockchains derive from the source code of others, meaning they can have the same or similar address format. Unlike other e-payment systems, the blockchain won’t alert you that the recipient’s name and address don’t match. The blockchain, in fact, recognizes no other user-info than the wallet address.
Nowadays, these address “accidents” most often happen to Bitcoin users sending BTC to a Bitcoin Cash (BCH) wallet and holders of tokens based on some of the smart-contract blockchains like Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, BNB Smart Chain, and Polygon.
Now, let’s return to our example. Instead of John’s Bitcoin address, you can accidentally insert a Bitcoin Cash address in the empty field. The blockchain won’t decline this request, so your coins will leave your wallet and get stuck on the blockchain. They won’t be able to find the recipient’s address because such an address doesn’t exist on the Bitcoin network.
The only thing you can do here is to find the address holder and use their private keys to unstuck the coins. It wouldn’t be an issue if the mistaken address belonged to another friend of yours, but if it’s a random mistake, you’ll need some hard detective work and tons of luck to track down that user. Even if you somehow find the wrong recipient, no law obliges them to send the coins back.
Private Crypto Wallets vs Cryptocurrency Exchanges
However, the communication between crypto holders doesn’t always happen in a peer-to-peer manner. In fact, the largest marketplace for trading cryptocurrencies is centralized crypto exchanges (CEXs), which operate as regulated money service businesses. Their trading platforms are based on an order-book system, enabling CEXs to serve as an intermediary in the transaction process.
As such, crypto exchanges are more tolerant when it comes to retrieving a transaction. Not that they’re always willing to help, but at least exchanges have a bunch of information about the recipient, thanks to KYC verification. Some CEXs offer a recovery feature, while others openly reject this option because, as they say, the process of restoring a blockchain transaction can be uncertain, risky, and exhaustingly time-consuming.
So, while Coinbase doesn’t have an official position on this matter, HitBTC transparently opts out of providing assistance in the recovery process. On the other hand, Bittrex offers a recovery option but only for transactions over $5,000. Not to forget that the service will cost you 0.1% of the total transaction value, which is just too much.
Can I Recover Bitcoin Sent to a Bitcoin Cash Address?
Bitcoin Cash appeared on the scene in 2017 as a solution to Bitcoin’s scalability issues. This altcoin was designed as a hard fork of the Bitcoin blockchain, which means that the network split into two parts at a particular block (block 478,558). This block contains a vital protocol modification that requires miners to upgrade to the new chain if they want to use it.
Some of the upgrades that followed included a new address format, CashAddr address (Cash address), but the old addresses in the original Bitcoin format — BCH Legacy format — remained valid and operable. They have the exact same appearance as a standard BTC address, giving a high chance of being mistaken.
If you send the bitcoins to a BCH exchange wallet, try to establish direct contact with their customer support team. Make sure you give all the details in your email inquiry, including TxID (your transaction ID). Depending on the exchange policy, there is a real chance for your coins to be saved.
But, if you’re the owner of the BCH wallet, the problem can be settled in a minute. Just import the private key (with the seed phrase) of the Bitcoin Cash to your Bitcoin wallet and “welcome back” your crypto assets.
How to Recover Bitcoin Sent to an Ethereum Address?
Bitcoin and Ethereum are the two most frequently-traded cryptocurrencies, occupying the highest positions on charts. Thereby, you may want to know the scenario of sending BTC to an ETH wallet.
Well, the “winning duo” features different address formats, and if you send BTC to an ETH address by mistake, the transaction won’t happen at all. There have been very few exceptions where users reported that their bitcoins were deducted from the wallet in such a situation. They weren’t aware of the change until initiating a withdrawal.
When it comes to Ethereum, the real risk comes from the ERC-20 tokens BabyBitcoin (BBTC) and Wrapped Bitcoin (WBTC). ERC-20 tokens are Ethereum ”products,” but these two are pegged to Bitcoin with a 1:1 ratio and have Bitcoin-compatible addresses. In some way, BBTC and WBTC represent Bitcoin on the Ethereum network.
So, if you happen to send some bitcoins to an address of one of the compatible ERC-20 tokens, the only option is to track down your transaction on the Ethereum blockchain explorer Etherscan and check the policy of your crypto exchange for restoring transactions.
How to Recover Tether (USDT) Sent to a Bitcoin Address?
The most popular stablecoin is hosted by different blockchains such as Ethereum, Tron, and the BNB Smart Chain, but its original version uses the Bitcoin blockchain, or more precisely, the Bitcoin-based Omni Protocol.
As a result, it can occur to active users to send Tether to a Bitcoin address by mistake. The good news is that such a mistake can happen only if you use an Omni address. The bad news is that once sent, it’s hardly possible to restore your “floating” bitcoins because of the blockchain diversity.
What If I Send Crypto Without a Destination Tag/MEMO?
A MEMO or Destination Tag is additional data that centralized exchanges use to identify users of cryptocurrencies like Stellar (XLM), Ripple (XRP), and Cosmos (ATOM) that employ this system. This data can appear in numeric format or a string, or both.
So, if you send some of these cryptocurrencies with the wrong tag or without a tag, the exchange will eventually receive the funds, but it won’t transfer them from the deposit address. In other words, your transaction may be labeled as successful, but the coins won’t be delivered to the desired address.
Since crypto address tags are related to the performance of centralized exchanges, this problem is “repairable.” When you notice the mistake, you should reach out to the support team and submit all relevant transaction info. For instance, on your Binance account, you have an option to send a form for restoring your unidentified crypto funds.
How to Recover Your Tokens After Sending Them to the Wrong Network
Pay close attention to the network you select when transferring tokens from one address to another. You can easily confuse Ethereum (ERC-20) with Binance Smart Chain (BEP-20) and send your tokens to the wrong blockchain. In real life, this usually happens because of the low fees of the Binance blockchain compared to the insanely high Ethereum gas, so users intuitively select the cheaper one.
What you can do in such a situation depends on the recipient’s address. There are two possible scenarios. First, you might be using the Binance in-exchange wallet and decide to transfer the tokens you acquired to an independent wallet. In this case, if the new wallet supports both ERC-20 and BEP tokens, you can send the tokens back to the native wallet without any hassle.
However, if the recipient wallet supports only BEP-20 or only ERC-20, you’ll have to import your private keys to a new wallet, which is open to both blockchains. More precisely, you’ve sent some of your BEP-20 funds to an Ethereum-based wallet, so now you’ll have to prepare for a mission to import your private keys to a new BSC wallet. Before doing so, it’ll be of great help to withdraw some BNB coins in advance to pay transaction fees on BSC.
If you use MetaMask, it may happen for your tokens to be invisible on the newly-generated wallet despite the established connection between MetaMask and the BSC blockchain. Fortunately, MetaMask has a good option to add custom tokens manually.
But, if the recipient wallet is another in-exchange or custodian wallet, you won’t be able to do much since you won’t have full control to manipulate your private key. Similar to other examples, the best you can do is to contract the exchange support team.
Can I Recover the BEP20 Tokens Sent to MetaMask?
What if you mistakenly sent BEP-20 USDT to your Ethereum wallet? The recovery process of your BEP-20 tokens is possible and pretty upfront if you use MetaMask for storing Ether and ERC-20 tokens.
Before anything else, navigate to Custom RPC when you log in to your MetaMask wallet. You’ll find this option under Ethereum Mainnet. Once there, select Add Binance Smart Chain and insert this set of information:
Network Name: Smart Chain
New RPC URL: https://bsc-dataseed.binance.org/
Block Explorer URL: https://bscscan.com
Now, your MetaMask wallet will pair with the Binance Smart Chain, but it’s possible for the BEP-20 tokens to not be immediately displayed despite the successful transfer.
Afterward, you can send the token back either to Binance or any other BEP20 address. If you want to use the tokens for trading on another trading platform, you can also transfer them there, but first, double-check whether the crypto trading platform supports BEP-20 or cross-chain deposits. Binance Bridge can be a super useful tool for transferring BEP-20 tokens to the Ethereum blockchain.
A Few Words Before You Go…
As you can see, the blockchain can be very obscure when it comes to human error. While it achieves a full level of decentralization, it doesn’t give any valid options for restoring transactions. In some way, this handicap is the price we pay for trading on an advanced payment system — without our identity being virtually scanned. In addition, any attempt of a crypto exchange to help you recover your funds is interpreted as breaking the rules of decentralization.
Finally, we can conclude from the given examples that it’s for the best not to “touch” the blockchain. While it’s realistically possible to retrieve your locked funds in some isolated cases, you shouldn’t rely on them. Instead, focus on finding secure copy/paste options when inserting a new coin or token contract address, or just scan the wallet QR code and avoid such painful events.