Friday, July 22, 2011

Infidelity Investigations: E-Catching the Cheater

by Colleen Collins & Shaun Kaufman

We are private investigators who specialize in legal investigations, and we also take the occasional infidelity case. Because one of the Stiletto Gang writers asked us to write about tracking down cheating spouses, we’ll discuss some facets of this work, starting with how private investigators are part therapists and finishing with electronic investigative means, or “e-catching” the cheater.

PIs As Therapists

When somebody calls and says he/she suspects the spouse is cheating, we don’t immediately take the case. Instead we listen. After all, it takes guts to call a complete stranger and reveal your innermost heartache that the person you love might be romantically involved with another.

Typically, we end the call by asking the person to think it over, maybe try marriage counseling before retaining our services. We want the person to be absolutely certain they want to put out the expense to hire a private investigator. More important, we want them to be certain they’re ready to learn the truth.

Signs Someone Might Be Cheating

We’ve heard the following reasons why a potential client thinks a spouse or significant other is cheating:
1. She’s starting exercising, losing weight.
2. He suddenly has the need to work excessive amounts of overtime.
3. She’s taking more business trips, and when she’s away, the husband has trouble reaching her by phone.
4. There’s unexplained credit card charges.
5. Out of the blue, he got a new cell phone and the statements are mailed to his office instead of the home.
6. His wife is getting more cell phone calls, and she’s always leaving the room to talk to this person.
7. Her husband is suddenly texting all the time, claiming it’s a work buddy.

Cell Phones: A Cheater’s Best Friend

In the above list, notice how often cell phones are involved. No big surprise – they’re handy, portable devices that let a philandering partner easily stay in touch with a paramour. We’ve had potential clients call and ask us for the following cell phone investigations – below are common requests and our answers:

Request: I want to see who my wife’s calling. Can you get me records of incoming and outgoing calls to her cell phone?

Answer: No, obtaining others’ cell phone records is illegal. Unless your name is on the signed agreement with that cell phone carrier, it’s illegal for you too. (Note to readers: Not so long ago, there were numerous Internet services that sold others’ phone records – the feds have successfully closed down most of these services, but buyer beware. Purchasing others’ phone records is a felony with possible jail time.)

Request: I see a new cell phone number on my husband’s cell phone history. I think it’s this woman he’s seeing. I want her name and address.

Answer: We’ll check public records for whose name is associated to that cell phone number. But if we also find an address, sorry, we’re not releasing it to you. It’s our duty to protect others’ privacy and their personal safety.

Request: I think my fiancée is fooling around. I want to download spyware on her phone, listen in on her conversations.

Answer: Downloading spyware on an unsuspecting person’s cell phone is committing wiretapping, which both federal and state officials frown on. If you decide to surreptitiously download spyware, and you get caught, you’re facing felony charges and potentially time behind bars.

Computer Spyware
We’ve also had people ask if we can help them download computer spyware on their spouse’s computer. This is akin to asking us to download spyware on a cell phone – if the owner of the computer is unaware of the downloaded software, computer spyware (also called “mobile monitoring software”) can be problematic, if not illegal. Even if a spouse has filed for a divorce, and that computer is still within the home, evidence obtained by capturing snapshots of chat room conversations or email exchanges isn’t always admissible in court because it can violate privacy and eavesdropping statutes.

Chasing Cheaters in Fiction
If you’re writing a story where a sleuth is chasing a cheater, think about how to use some of the above scenarios in your story. It could be a comic subplot if a green-behind-the-ears PI helps a client download spyware onto her boyfriend’s cell phone, the boyfriend discovers the software, and the PI ends up being investigated by the feds or even the local cops! Or maybe a seemingly distraught client hires a PI to watch his spouse, but as the PI digs deeper, she discovers the cheating spouse case was only a ruse for something more ominous.

***Thank you to The Stiletto Gang for hosting us today! We’re giving away a gift Kindle version of How to Write a Dick to one of today’s readers who posts a comment/question (name will be randomly picked before midnight today – please be sure to leave your email address for notification). If you don’t have a Kindle, there are free downloadable Kindle apps for PCs and Macs (we use the downloadable app at home, and it’s great).

Colleen Collins co-owns Highlands Investigations in Denver, Colorado. Her articles on private investigations have appeared in PI Magazine, Pursuit Magazine, and other publications. She's written 20 novels for Harlequin and Dorchester and has spoken at regional and national conferences about writing private eyes in fiction.

Shaun Kaufman co-owns Highlands Investigations, and has worked in and around the criminal justice field for over 30 years as a former trial attorney and a current investigator. He's published articles in PI Magazine, the Denver Law Review and other publications, and has presented workshops on a wide variety of investigative topics, including crime scenes, how PIs effectively testify in trials and gang evidence.

How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths is available on:   Kindle    Nook

The private eye genre has come a long way, baby, with new subgenres – from teenage PIs to vampire gumshoes to geriatric sleuths – attracting new readers every year. Although it can be safely said that all fictional sleuths, or dicks, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, are thinking machines, depending on their powers of observation, analysis and curiosity, the 21st century has opened up a brave new world of investigative technology, tools and Internet resources that would have made Sherlock Holmes weep with joy.

Unfortunately, most writers are not aware of these state-of-the-art developments that shape today’s professional private dick, which sometimes leave writers floundering with impossible and antiquated devices, characters and methods in stories. Which is why we wrote How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, whose material we culled from our working a combined 14 years as private investigators (and for one of us, a lawyer, several decades hiring and managing private investigators). As a team, we have taught online classes and presented workshops at writers’ conferences about writing private investigators, and we write the blog Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes on a wide variety of investigative topics. How to Write a Dick isn’t about how to write a novel, but what you need to know to write an authentic, compelling 21st-century sleuth character or story.


  1. Thanks for joining us today, Colleen and Shaun! And thanks for talking about cheating spouses. With all the cheaters in the headlines lately, I think it's very interesting to imagine how different scenarios could play out in a mystery!


  2. I'll definitely be checking out this book. My PI interests mainly lie in the hardboiled and noir genres and less in "cheating spouse" cases but reading about investigation methods is fun in and of itself. I try to stay informed on the latest techniques in this field but some of the most "recent" and well known books out there are more than a few years old. Looking forward to this book's release for sure. Thanks for the tip!


  3. Thank you for your informative post. My protagonist is an amateur, but has a research background. Even though she's not an official PI, I wouldn't want her operating outside the law.

    I have a question for you: is it difficult to handle the emotional fallout of this kind of investigation? How do you deal with this on a personal level? And can it make you paranoid about you own relationships? (Oopsies -- that was 3 questions -- sorry!)

  4. Hi everyone, hope you're all enjoying your Fridays.

    Jaie, we also tend to read more hard-boiled and noir mysteries, but it's interesting how some of those stories start with the PI thinking he/she's taking on a simple cheating case when it's actually the tip of the iceberg.

    Like the movie's a "I think my husband's been cheating" case that first comes into Jake Gittes's office...then it unravels into a much bigger crime he's investigating.

    We've never had that happen in our real-life investigations business, however.

    And it is fun to read about investigations, isn't it? We also recommend "A Complete Idiot's Guide to Private Investigating" by Steven K. Brown.

  5. Hi Nora,

    To answer your question >>is it difficult to handle the emotional fallout of this kind of investigation? How do you deal with this on a personal level? And can it make you paranoid about you own relationships?<<

    Sometimes it's difficult to handle the emotional fallout in infidelity investigations. We've had people cry to us, and we do our best to be supportive, mostly by listening.

    On a personal level, some of these stories might remind us about incidences one or both of us personally experienced in our long-ago past. We might share this with a client ("I discovered infidelity years ago, too, so I empathize with what you're going through").

    Are we paranoid about our own relationship? Well, we're "people of a certain age," and our marriage is the second for both of us, so we value what we have.

    Interestingly enough, we've only had two "golden oldie" cheating cases, and in both one of the spouses had allowed the other to fool around...then things got out of hand.

  6. Awesome! I just want to say thanks for the gift! I just downloaded it and haven't had a chance to read through it all yet but did a quick scan and am really enthusiastic about this read. Not only does it touch base on the "little" things I'm interested in for detail's sake (pretexting, obtaining records, etc.) it's also a great refresher course to many of the criminal investigation classes I already have under my belt. Looking forward to the read.

    Thanks again,


  7. Congrats, Jaie!!! :-)



This is a comment awaiting moderation on the blog.