You’re certain your partner is cheating, but don’t know how to prove it? Well, you’re not the only one. The market for private detective services in the U.S. is growing and was worth more than $7 billion last year.
But with social media and smartphones, do you really need a professional to do your snooping for you? We asked three private investigators to share their trade secrets, so you don’t have to.
Why Do People Hire Private Investigators?
Timothy Burchell opened London-based agency UK Private Investigators in 1997. For more than two decades, Burchell and his team have handled countless cheating cases, working with clients worldwide.
He said people usually reach out to him because they’ve noticed a change in their partner’s behavior, such as staying late at work or a new name popping up in conversation.
“There are some obvious signs of potential cheating,” he told Newsweek. “But it could be something as little as changing their perfume or aftershave.”
The CEO and founder of USA Express Legal & Investigative Services, Harry Kazakian, has handled over 4,000 cases during this 27-year career. His team regularly helps clients to prove infidelity so they can win divorce or custody battles, but he also works with suspicious spouses.
“They often don’t have physical evidence,” he told Newsweek. “They are curious and want to know who they are getting involved with.”
How Do Private Investigators Find Cheaters?
You may envision a trench-coated sleuth with a camera, but technology has changed the nature of private investigation.
Don Aviv is the president of global corporate intelligence agency Interfor International. The firm was founded in 1979 by his father Juval Aviv, a former Mossad-agent-turned-private-investigator, who inspired the character of Avner Kaufman in Steven Spielberg’s Munich.
He said technology has been a game-changer for private investigators, but that it hasn’t replaced old-fashioned footwork.
“We can now track and monitor people around the world from the comfort of our offices,” he told Newsweek.
“Having said that, we’ve followed subjects across international borders, sent undercover investigators to exclusive resorts, and chartered planes, speed boats, and once even a hot air balloon in pursuit of cases.”
Step 1: A Comprehensive Background Investigation
Aviv said the first step is to conduct a comprehensive background investigation on the subject. This includes everything from their career to their assets, associates and travel plans.
“We spend considerable time and effort reviewing a person’s background looking for red flags or items of concern to help peel back layers of the onion,” he said.
He also makes a note of any problematic behavior in the subject’s past to understand the likelihood of them repeating these actions.
“Fraudsters and cheaters tend to stay fraudsters and cheaters,” he added.
Step 2: Physical Surveillance
Kazakian asks for photographs, relevant locations, and details of the vehicle the subject drives. They also ask for a breakdown of the subject’s supposed schedule to make them easier to track, as well as their driving habits.
“We use vehicles and a motorcycle equipped with cameras, so you have a perfect view of what’s happening in front of you,” he said.
“If [the subject] is a maniac on the road, we need to have two investigators on them so we don’t lose them.”
Kazakian was once asked to investigate a married doctor, as his wife suspected him of having an affair with her friend. They found the pair having sex in a car and caught the whole thing on camera.
“When they were done, the man got out of the car with his pants down, bent over and pulled them up and we caught all this on video,” he said.
“It happened three days in a row.”
Step 3: Honey-Trapping
Depending on the situation, Kazakian will sometimes send an attractive man or woman to flirt with the subject. The encounter is secretly filmed, with the subject’s reaction forwarded to their partner. This strategy is known as “honey-trapping,” but can actually be more useful for proving someone isn’t a cheater.
“In 2022 we used the strategy about 10 times,” Kazakian said.
“I know we caught one man, and I believe there was a second who also took the bait. The rest didn’t play.”
There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Typical’ Client
Aviv spends around 60 percent of his time tracking down cheaters, and estimates that 95 percent of these clients are female. However, they come from a range of backgrounds—from stay-at-home moms to CEOs and A-list celebrities.
“The only unifying factor tends to be a level of mistrust or underlying skepticism regarding a spouse or partner,” he said.
Kazakian sees more males than females, with clients usually in their 30s or 40s. He said these men are often insecure and trying to reassert control over their partner.
“[For example], if a woman is more successful than her husband, he may be unwilling or unable to understand why his wife is working later hours than she used to,” he said.
He recounts the story of a truck driver married to a successful attorney. He refused to believe she was traveling for work and asked Kazakian to investigate.
“It wasn’t that she had stopped paying him or their family enough attention, or that he had any evidence,” Kazakian said.
“It turned out, he was the one cheating on her.”
Burchell said his client list is usually a 50/50 split between men and women, but some months there will be a spike in female clients asking for help.
“We receive more bookings during the month of February to coincide with Valentine’s Day,” he explained. “There’s also a post-Christmas spike.”
He believes that the holidays give people more time to reflect on their relationships, or they are more likely to spot suspicious behavior due to increased time together.
How Often Is the Partner Cheating?
Unfortunately, Aviv said most people who suspect their partner of cheating are proven correct. However, there have been cases with unexpected results.
“During that process we often uncover other aspects worth documenting,” he said.
“These range from fraud to assorted criminal actions to secret families—and in a recent case, a sex change of which the spouse was unaware.”
Burchell said no two jobs are the same. Once, while investigating a cheating suspect, he accidentally revealed the man’s secret kink.
“His wife suspected him of seeing her best friend, but [the trail] led us to a BDSM club—that was not what the client expected.”
It’s Not Always About the Sex
Surprisingly, Aviv said his clients are rarely looking to prove infidelity for relationship reasons. Like Kazakian, many of his clients are already convinced their partner is cheating and are trying to obtain evidence for a legal battle.
“Typically, we get involved when the client begins to plan a legal strategy around divorce or the equitable separation of assets,” he said.
“The cheating tends to be a lesser issue for our clients, especially when significant assets or the safety of children are involved.”
Kazakian regularly works with clients trying to prove that their current or former partner is an unfit parent. This can include men bringing random lovers home during visitation time with their child, or leaving their kid with a relative and heading off for the day.
“[It can be] the final straw for a father to lose custody,” he said.
What if There Is No Evidence?
If there’s no evidence of infidelity, then the investigation goes no further. However, Burchell said cheaters are always caught out.
“People like to think they are being discreet, but we have been in this business for many years and will always be one step ahead of them,” he said.
Unfortunately, Kazakian said some clients will refuse to believe their partner isn’t cheating, even when there’s absolutely no evidence to support their theory.
“No matter how much you will do for them they will not be satisfied,” he said.
“People say things that will blow your mind.”
Has infidelity broken your trust in your partner? Let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org. We can ask experts for advice, and your story could be featured on Newsweek.