Why it's never been easier to spy on your cheating partner
When Cheryl discovered Ashley's secret 'sexts', it was game over. But today's suspicious lovers turn to hidden cameras and spyphones, writes Deirdre Reynolds
Lipstick on his collar, constantly working late and fishy credit card charges -- all time-honoured ways to tell if your other half is playing away from home.
But just as the internet has made it easier to cheat, now it's making it easier to get caught too. And methods of detection are going beyond merely discovering secret text messages, victims of which include Ashley Cole and Tiger Woods.
Computer key loggers, spyphone software, sim card readers, hidden cameras and car-tracking devices are just some of the gadgets being snapped up by Irish people trying to catch their partner with their pants down, according to spyware stores here.
Forget 'Big Brother' -- now it's your lover who's watching your every move. When architect Andrew (48) from Dublin suspected his wife of having an affair for the second time, he turned to the internet for proof.
"In 2008, I found out my wife was cheating on me with a work colleague after I overheard them talking on the phone," he says.
"After swearing nothing had happened, she eventually admitted she had slept with him twice -- but said it was a mistake.
"We have a three year-old son and decided to go to counselling.
"However, I had a gut feeling that something was still going on, so when my own laptop started to break down two months later, I asked to borrow hers and installed a keylogger [which records keystrokes typed on a keyboard].
"I discovered she was using a secret Gmail account -- and was still seeing him and had been for months.
"In our last counselling session, I asked her if anything was going on," he adds. "And when she swore there wasn't, I produced the emails I had printed out. Both she and the therapist were in complete shock."
But Andrew isn't alone in spying on his other half.
Fuelled by suspicious spouses, the DIY detective industry is booming at a time when many other businesses are going to the wall.
"It's definitely a growing market," says James Delaney, of Spystore.ie -- a Saggart-based company selling products such as spyphones, GPS trackers and digital recorders.
"Ten years ago, most of this technology wouldn't have existed -- now you can find out in a few minutes if your partner has been unfaithful with a SIM card reader that recovers deleted texts."
"Our most popular product is a €300 GPS tracking device that you can put in the boot of someone's car or luggage to find out exactly where they've been. But Semen Detection Kits are also starting to become popular."
Faster and cheaper than hiring a private investigator, it's easy to see why wives and husbands like Andrew would be tempted to turn amateur Poirot to find out for sure if their partner has strayed.
But giving your marriage the MI5 treatment also has the potential to backfire spectacularly.
Just ask Missouri woman Andrea L Villines (32) who was charged with tampering and stalking last year after attempting to place a GPS tracking device on her ex-boyfriend's car -- causing a bomb scare that shut down a city centre car park.
"A lot of people can't afford to hire a professional," says private investigator Liam A Brady, a member of the World Association of Professional Investigators which is calling for better regulation of spy devices sold freely online. But attempting to do it yourself can have disastrous consequences -- digital recorders start beeping and hidden cameras are uncovered.
"I know of one case where a woman downloaded spyphone software to her husband's mobile phone -- only for the company to ring him up to confirm that it had been successfully installed."
Although perfectly legal to buy and sell, how the device is actually used is another matter altogether -- as the ongoing News of the World hacking scandal has shown.
"The products themselves are legal," explains James Delaney of Spystore.ie. "It depends on how you use them.
"For instance, installing spyware software on a communal family computer is fine -- but if you don't actually own the computer, it could be problematic. If you're not sure, it's best to seek legal advice first."
Then there's the emotional fallout when the undercover lover finally finds what they're looking for -- and sometimes even when they don't.
"If you discover your partner has cheated, it's likely to destroy your marriage," warns systemic family therapist David Kavanagh of Avalon Relationship Counselling.
"And even if they're weren't cheating -- but discover you've been spying on them, it could be over anyway."
But is it even necessary in the first place?
"If someone is calling up a private investigator or buying a keylogger, they probably already have a gut feeling that their partner is cheating," says private investigator Liam A Brady.
"We work on a lot of domestic cases and most of the time, the evidence is already there.
"But you'd be better off picking up the phone for professional advice than going down the DIY espionage route."
For Andrew though, that tiny €80 keylogger has helped bring closure to a doomed marriage.
"I've no regrets," he says. "If I hadn't used the keylogger, I would have continued to believe that the affair was somehow my fault.
"Cheating spouses will always lie to protect themselves," he adds. "But betrayed spouses deserve to know the truth."