Cheating Husbands and Wives Caught in Web
In the News
Technology makes infidelity easier, but it also makes getting caught practically inevitable.
By Joanna Stern, published December 18, 2007
Rena Holloway (who preferred not to use her real name) was suspicious. The 36-year-old mother of four from Chicago had become uncomfortable with her husband’s rampant cell phone use and that his voicemail password had been changed from the usual family code. His call history was blank—a sign he’d erased it. There were also paw prints on the family desktop Web browser: He had been logging into a separate e-mail account.
One morning, while her husband was in the shower, she flipped open his cell phone and there it was: an illicit text message. Holloway, who had been through this before, didn’t stop there. She wrote down the phone number and used Intelius’ Web service to look up her husband’s cell phone records. Lo and behold, the number of the text sender appeared numerous times on her husband’s outgoing call list. Today, Holloway and her husband are separated.
As you might imagine, Holloway isn’t alone. “As technology gets more and more sophisticated, cheaters are going to have a greater risk of getting caught, especially because so many of them are meeting online and communicating there,” said infidelity expert Ruth Houston, author of Is He Cheating On You? “The evidence is all in the cyber realm,” she said.
Net Helps Cheating Husbands and Wives
According to relationship experts like Houston, cheating is on the rise because technology makes finding a willing partner easier. The unfaithful don’t have to scour bars or cultivate relationships; they can simply visit a site like The Ashley Madison Agency, a site dedicated to helping married people find other partners. The site, whose tagline is “When monogamy becomes monotony,” boasts almost a million members in the U.S. alone. Stats may convey the popularity of the site among cheaters, but creating a profile of our own was equally telling. Within 20 minutes of setting up a profile, in which we said we were a 30-year-old “attached female seeking males,” we received seven messages from men who were married or “attached.”
One member, whom we’ll call Rick, traded messages with us on the site. He told us how he keeps his extramarital relations a secret from his wife and asked that we not use his real name. “I log into Ashley Madison a few times a day to see what else is out there,” Rick said. “I always make sure to erase the Web-browser history on the family computer if that’s the one I’m on.”
Rick has met face to face with women from the site. “I typically am traveling for work, so I use my laptop on the road to communicate,” he said.
Divorce lawyers and marriage counselors agree that Internet-abetted infidelity—romance originating in chat rooms and fueled by e-mail—is now one of the leading contributors of marital breakdowns. A 2005 study conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers indicated that 63 percent of divorce cases involve some form of online infidelity. (This infidelity can refer to relationships that began on the Internet or were spurred on by electronic communication.)
“I couldn’t count the number of cases when there has been e-mail evidence of adulterous relationships,” said Gaetano Ferro, a matrimonial attorney and president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “It often happens that a prospective client comes in [saying that their] spouse has a boyfriend or girlfriend, and they drop a stack of e-mails on my desk.”
Following the E-Tracks
It’s no coincidence that catching a cheating wife or cheating husband has also become easier because much of the communication occurs via mobile technology.
“A basic knowledge of cell phones and computers gave me access to hard evidence,” said Holloway. “I think the Internet and cell phones make it amazingly easy to have affairs and be caught doing so.”
Private investigators once relied on long-lens cameras and receipt records, but technology has changed their trade. “The personal computer and mobile phone have revolutionized our business,” said Bill Mitchell, the director and chief investigator of Mitchell Reports Investigation, who has been a PI since the Internet’s infancy. “There is a clear advantage in technology for the investigator. Now we can do everything from install a camera that can run by itself or put a GPS device in an automobile and watch it from our laptop.”
Mitchell also mentioned that his company uses software to track keystrokes and image hard drives, adding that the technology has saved his clients thousands of dollars in man-hours.
It’s a business that’s growing. Adam Camras is cofounder of PInow.com, a site that links people with private investigators in their geographic location. He’s seen a major increase in the site’s infidelity-investigation business. “We receive anywhere from 10 to 25 inquiries for online infidelity cases on a weekly basis,” said Camras, adding that local investigators usually receive even more.
These inquiries come not only from evidence of time spent in virtual communities, such as Second Life, but from other social sites such as MySpace, dating sites, and sites that cater to cheating husbands and wives. “Requests from people wanting tangible information about their spouse’s other ‘online spouse’ have grown 200 percent over the past two years,” Camras said.
Although nothing beats having a tech-savvy private investigator at your disposal, John Lucich, a computer forensic expert, has focused on bringing detectives’ technology skills to the average person. He argues that costly bills and the idea of involving an outsider in one’s dissolving marriage don’t make hiring a private investigator the most attractive solution. Lucich’s book, Cyber Lies, teaches suspecting spouses how to examine a partner’s computer or cell phone to find out if he or she is cheating. “Unfortunately, I can lead people in the right direction to uncover their suspicions,” he said.
More Inclined to Cheat?
Although cell phones and instant messaging can be used to keep relationships strong, these tools can also be weapons that tear marriages and families apart. “Mobile technology has made breakthroughs in human relationships and brought us closer to loved ones,” said Dr. Susan Heitler, a clinical psychologist specializing in marital therapy and author of The Power of Two. “But on the flip side, it lets us be inappropriately romantic during affairs. The spouse can even be in the same room as the cheater communicates with the [other] woman or man.”
But are people who are already inclined to cheat simply upgrading to higher-tech tools, or are more people cheating because technology has made it easier? Marc H. Rudov, author of <I>The Man’s No-Nonsense Guide to Women</I>, told us that technology has nothing to do with it. “Technology is just the enabler of infidelity,” he said. “Like a gun is the means for murder, you have to want to kill someone before firing that gun. People do not cheat because the technology is there; they cheat because they are bored or insecure.”
Dr. Kimberly Young, the founder of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery, takes another view. She thinks that today’s digital world has created a new breed of cheaters that may not have ever cheated before. “I believe the Internet and mobile devices make affairs much more possible,” Young said.
Rudov does agree that technology is partly to blame for the upsurge in infidelity. “We live in a world that is electronically connected but disconnected emotionally,” he said. “People are communicating via text messages and voicemails more than they’re talking to each other face to face. It provides a layer of artificiality that has changed marriages and relationships. That disconnection makes it easier to bounce from one person to the other.”
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