In the age of smartphones and social media, there are a lot of ways in which to keep things secret from your partner. But deciding to start a whole TikTok channel promoting what you are doing is probably a good way to get caught.
This is what happened to Aaron, better known as “CryptoNoobUK” on the video sharing platform. “One day my wife stumbled across me on TikTok, talking about crypto. She was completely shocked. She asked me “Is this you?” and I owned up to it.”
Despite having a background in finance, Aaron had not invested in much before he invested around £500 into cryptocurrency in 2021. It was a tricky time for him and his wife, as their autistic son had just been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which progressed rapidly, requiring him to have six rounds of chemotherapy.
“My wife and I had a lot of sleepless nights back then, and she was always on TikTok as a distraction,” he explains. “I started browsing too just to take my mind of things, and while her “For You” page was full of people singing and dancing, mine was a bit different, full of more factual content.”
It was after watching some content about “side hustles” and making some spare cash on the side that he discovered cryptocurrency and the traders making thousands through buying and selling Bitcoin and others. Aaron had tried making money in the past with drop-shipping (selling cheap items from overseas in bulk) and eBay trading, but found that he lacked the time to make much money from it – or to concentrate on his family. But crypto appeared to offer much better returns so long as you did your research.
“I really didn’t know anything about it,” he says. “But when I started learning about it I thought that maybe it was going to be a big deal, and I got further and further into it. It felt like an adventure.”
Aaron has mild OCD and finds it easy to become engrossed in new things, he says. The nightly routine of checking TikTok and learning more became central to his routine, and before long he was researching it in his spare time. “I dived into the crypto deep end: I joined lots of groups on TikTok and Discord and started putting some money into it,” he says.
Aaron’s is a typical, working family, with very little money held in savings and most of his and his wife’s paycheques went straight into their monthly outgoings. He started investing between £50 and £100 each month into crypto without telling her that he was. “All the while my wife just thinks I’m spending a lot of time on the app,” he says. “We have separate bank accounts, and the bills were getting paid, so we were OK.”
As the weeks went past, Aaron found that his investments were performing really well, with some growing in price many times over, even though several cryptocurrencies – including Bitcoin – were doing very badly.
He started making his own TikTok videos in June 2021, without telling his wife. In them he discussed what he had discovered while trading, and was invited into some private groups that ran so-called “pre-sales”, early releases of new crypto coins or other products.
“My wife wasn’t aware or interested in anything that I was doing,” he explains. “It wasn’t that I was hiding what I did we are very independent with what we do with our money – but I never really mentioned it to her.”
It was not until that evening in the spring of 2021 when, in their nightly TikTok browsing, Aaron’s wife suddenly saw a video of him discussing cryptocurrency with his followers. By this time, he’d been invested in it and making videos for five months.
“She was completely surprised,” he explains. “She didn’t understand it or understand crypto at all. Her first comment was ‘We can’t afford this’. She was worried that it was used for money laundering and scams and was quite upset about it.”
Luckily for the couple, Aaron could reassure her that he knew what he was doing and that had not spend a lot of money on it yet – though he admits that £500 was a significant sum for the couple. “Ultimately, I would have been wasting it on other things if I wasn’t investing it,” he says. “And I told her that I could make a good return. I’m not a gambler, but an investor.”
In the end, Aaron was right. An investment of $400 (£329) into one particular crypto product called Onino ended up resulting in an £8,000 payout when he sold three-quarters of his holdings. “Everyone was happy, and my wife was much more understanding after that,” he jokes.
Putting half of the proceeds away for a family holiday and a few things for the home, he kept the other half to put into “more solid investments”, including more well-known and established products including Ripple, ICP and Polkadot. His aim was to create a nest egg for his family so that they had a savings buffer for the future.
Today, Aaron’s wife is involved in all of his crypto activity and is supportive of his efforts. The couple currently have around £4,000 still held in crypto, after “substantial withdrawals” and a few bumps, given the current bear market for many products.
“She was brought into the educational cycle of what crypto is, and now she’s a moderator on the Discord channel I run which discusses it,” he explains. “But she was also keen that I didn’t invest more money, because I do get carried away with projects thanks to my OCD: my hobbies can become all-encompassing! She’s kept me grounded.”
After his adventure, Aaron does recognise that he did take a risk with the little money his family had. “While my investments might not sound like a lot of money to most people, for us as a working family with three children it is a significant amount,” he adds. With what we were going through at the time, now my wife wants as little stress in our lives as possible.”
With their finances order and their son now in remission for over a year, the future looks a little more secure for Aaron and his family.
Stories like Aaron’s are becoming increasingly common, experts have warned.
Mike LaCorte is the chief executive of Conflict International, a professional intelligence and security agency which helps people and companies trace assets, among other services.
He says the company has “seen an uptick in enquiries relating to individuals fearing that their partner has invested joint funds in higher-risk crypto assets without their buy-in or permission”.
LaCorte adds that there has been a significant increase in clients who are undergoing a divorce and suspect their ex of hiding assets in a digital wallet, and want to find out if this is the case.
“Ultimately, the growth of virtual currencies has been a game-changer for complex high-value divorce cases with some individuals believing that these types of assets are fair game when it comes to avoiding full financial disclosure,” he explains.
Harriet Errington, a family lawyer at Boodle Hatfield, has also seen a “dramatic increase” in the number of cases that she has worked on featuring hidden crypto assets, and estimates that around 25 to 30 per cent of the firm’s cases involve them in some way.
“The very nature of cryptocurrency attracts investors who are seeking anonymity and are prepared to accept a certain degree of risk in their approach to investments,” she adds. “It isn’t a great surprise that we are seeing an increase in the use of such assets by parties embarking on divorce proceedings.”
“The two main hurdles in these cases tend to be, first, proving that the assets actually exist, and secondly, their value, which can fluctuate wildly with the market.
“It is this rapid growth and fluctuation that may often lead spouses hiding assets to claim that they were not worth disclosing at the time of investment.”