How to catch a cheater: Private investigators’ tips for spotting the red flags…
September 9, 2023
By Carly Gibbs – NZME
Heartbreak doesn’t come more crushing than spousal cheating, but romantic tragedies are all too familiar for sleuth Anna Jeffs. Here’s a typical work brief for her: A woman falls for a man. That woman starts to suspect that the man may be secretly married. Private eye Jeffs gets called in to solve the mystery.
Breaking into a boys’ club, the former legal executive and real-life Veronica Mars became a private investigator about a decade ago. She says she has experience of being cheated on. “It taught me an awful lot about the lengths people go to, to cheat and lie. “My whole purpose of becoming a private investigator was to turn my adversity into positivity to help other people because I knew how traumatic it was for myself.”
She owns Fox Private Investigators, based in Auckland but working nationwide, including the Bay of Plenty. Infidelity makes up 50 per cent of her investigative work with 75 per cent female clients. She receives “several” phone calls a week about infidelity. “I think people equally do have affairs but women pick up instinctively if there are red flags. Women are finer-tuned to the details,” she says.
She acts as a shoulder to lean on, receiving calls from clients at all hours, and when evidence is found, she guides women on the safest ways to confront their partners and whether or not to disclose that they’ve used a private investigator in case they choose to stay with the person and require her services again. “We can produce photographs to make it look like an anonymous friend took it,” she says. While the situation can be traumatic, women are brave.
“There’s that saying, ‘Hell has no fury like a woman scorned’ and I’ve never experienced that. My clients have always dealt with traumatic circumstances with grace, dignity and strength and I feel like I’m in a very privileged position to be able to help them.”
Social media is often ‘the starting point’
Dion Neill, from The Neill Group (TNG) Licensed Private Investigators, says in the last two years his company has fielded increased infidelity inquiries, mostly from women. Time at home during and after Covid lockdowns has meant more time online, and some partners have reignited past relationships via social media. “Facebook is well-known as a reconnect site for people that get curious about their ex-lovers,” Neill says. “That’s quite often the starting point for something.”
Jeffs says level 3 lockdowns were also the impetus for cheaters to get smarter about where they could meet up with lovers, including remote areas such as cemeteries. Some operate up to three mobile phones and tell “extreme lies”. For instance, a boys’ fishing trip that is actually a weekend away with a lover will end with bringing home fillets of fish from a deli to maintain the lie. Others buy a second car, a “dodgy runabout”, without their partner’s knowledge and keep it parked a few blocks away. Some lie about being absent to support a sick family member, or lie about their own illnesses.
“They will go to extreme lengths to hide that affair from their partner. That’s why we must gain that evidence with photographs and video,” she says. “The camera doesn’t lie.”
A new era of infidelity
Last month Dion Neill launched his website cheaters.nz, where his New Zealand-wide team of investigators hunt down the unfaithful. They also conduct pre-date checks and background inquiries to rule out “romance scammers” or catfishing in what he calls “new era of infidelity”. Neill, who has been a licensed PI since 1987, says a spouse’s gut instinct that something isn’t right is usually correct.
On his website, he writes: “The moment you have a suspicion is the moment to act.” Licensed PIs work off leads and tip-offs from their clients, and are restricted by laws around privacy and covert surveillance. For example, they can’t bug devices or put tracking devices on vehicles.
For surveillance, which is often done in pairs, PIs choose nondescript vehicles and clothes as part of a “grey man approach”, including adding beards and moustaches that peel on and off. “Our most unassuming type of guys are the ones who are a bit older and they pop around in a little Prius. You’d think they’re an Uber driver.”
When evidence of infidelity is found, they can give their clients (who are all briefed on keeping their behaviour normal during the investigation) a written report, as well as photos, video and drone footage.
And there’s no age limit to inappropriate behaviour – it’s “18 to 80″. Neill tells the story of investigating a senior citizens’ swingers club at a retirement village. Management wanted proof of “inappropriate conduct” and, when found, participants were issued warnings.
“We have bizarre calls,” Neill says. It can take hours or weeks to gather evidence and investigators charge by the hour (about $90-$125). The PIs say women tend to be more careful in covering their tracks, while lovestruck men often leave a trail that is easy to pick up.
Neill uses various “honeytrap-type tools”, including Facebook profiles, to attract men to see if they’ll “take the bait”. “Seven out of 10 men will do it,” he says, adding that curiosity gets the better of most. “We use fictitious social media profiles of attractive women. If our target is a man who is in a long-term relationship, they usually take the bait. It’s disappointing.”
‘If they think their spouse is cheating, they are’
But while Neill advises seeking help, one PI says that gut instinct is usually all the awareness you need. Lara Wilson, of True Results in Te Puke, tends to talk clients out of surveillance monitoring. “What I end up saying to them is, ‘What do you hope to prove?’ Most of the time, if they think their spouse is cheating, they are. You kind of already know.”
It’s not work she is fond of. “It’s not good for your soul because there’s (more often than not) no happy ending,” she says. Pāpāmoa PI Bruce Currie, a former Waikato detective, gets up to two infidelity inquiries a week and says most people should budget for about 10 hours of work.
While it might seem like a good idea to do your own reconnaissance work, you may unknowingly end up committing illegal activities or run the risk of getting caught, he says. Using an investigator can also give you the legally admissible evidence needed to win “the upper hand in divorce or de facto claims”.
However, Massey University associate professor of psychology Kirsty Ross says that, if you are willing to engage a PI, it would suggest that trust has already been damaged. Anna Jeffs can confirm about 98 per cent of cheating suspicions by her clients are proven correct.
“Infidelity has a far-reaching impact. It’s like throwing a pebble into a pond. The affair is the pebble but the ripple is properties, companies, finance and children.”
If the decision is made by a couple to work through infidelity, Ross says the person who has cheated needs to take ownership and not place blame. “Regardless of what was going on in a relationship, the choice to betray a partner is a choice.”
For healing and trust to rebuild, the grief process needs time and transparency. That means the person who has been cheated on needs access to their partner’s phone, emails and devices.
“If the person who has cheated invalidates their partner’s feelings and needs, that is a negative predictor for healing and repair,” Ross says. “Telling someone ‘it is time to get over it’ suggests that the person does not take responsibility for the hurt caused by their choices.”
Relationship therapy is “strongly recommended”. Some couples won’t get over it but some do. “A good mantra is ‘whatever you need, for however long you need’ as long as there is progress and healing evident.
“People can work through infidelity and build stronger relationships if they are willing to be vulnerable and fully commit to the new relationship. And it will be a new relationship, one that involves total honesty and trust if it is to move forward successfully.”
There are many indicators of possible infidelity. Here are just a few red flags.
- Do they come home late more regularly?
- Do they avoid picking up their mobile phone immediately when you call them, or miss calls when in the same room as you, or leave the room to take a call?
- Have they started to care more about how they look?
- Talk a little too much about a certain person in their life (i.e. a new friend or a co-worker)?
- Check their messages or emails at strange times?
- Avoid having sexual intercourse with you? Or want more sex?
- Shower immediately after returning home?
- Keep their mobile phone on them at all times, even in the bathroom?