To Catch a Cheat – Times Publications, September 2012
Beth Wilson had a bad feeling about her boyfriend.
Call it a hunch or maybe a woman’s intuition. Or perhaps her lying, cheating dirt bag of a boyfriend just wasn’t particularly adept at lying or cheating.
Had he been a bit more skilled at two-timing, Beth might not have caught him a few months back with another woman. He swore it was a one-time thing, pledged his love and promised to never let anyone come between them again. Blah. Blah. Blah.
Beth believed him. Well, she wanted to believe him. But she was also no fool. So the divorced, 30-year-old Scottsdale nurse decided to put her live-in beau to the ultimate test — 24-hour computer surveillance.
By installing a secret monitor known as a keystroke logger on his computer, she was able to track his every online move — every email he typed, every website he visited. She had his passwords, email contacts, checking account balance, credit score, mom’s maiden name and even his boss’ birthday.
For months, he appeared to behave. But that Sunday he had been isolated in his home office, on the computer and out of her sight. So when he started bouncing around the house giddy with delight, a sudden knot formed in the pit of her stomach.
When he stepped outside, Beth grabbed her iPhone and slyly logged onto his email account. Sure enough that two-faced jerk had been trolling the Craigslist personals ads. Her heart sank.
“It was massive anxiety. My hands were shaking and sweating. I felt like I was going to throw up. It was the worst, most panicked feeling in the world,” Beth says. “Even with his previous habit, I was in total and complete shock. We were living together and he was on his Mac computer doing that while I was just feet away in the other room. I didn’t want to believe a person I loved was capable of doing something like that.”
Believe it, sweetheart. Infidelity is more common than ever. The Internet has made cheating easy — if a relationship has become stale, the future affair can be just a mouse click away. But these same high-tech tools that facilitate cheating also leave digital lipstick on the collar that anyone can use to expose their unfaithful lover. And there is a booming industry of infidelity detection devices designed to make cyber-spying simple.
Monogamy is dead — it gasped its last breath sometime in 2001, when Internet dating sites first began catering to married people. At least that’s the controversial opinion of the man making millions peddling adultery online: Noel Biderman, founder of AshleyMadison.com, the world’s leading married dating site.
“It’s not in our DNA to be monogamous,” says Biderman, the self-proclaimed “king of infidelity.” “It doesn’t seem to exist in nature. It’s a man-made construct.”
The adultery business has been good to Biderman. AshleyMadison.com claims to serve 10 million cheaters worldwide, and ranks Arizona third in the nation for membership.
While adultery is nearly as old as the institution of marriage itself, Biderman admits the Internet has made it all the more prevalent.
“Having a lover one click away on Ashley Madison, or even a past lover on Facebook is very tempting, especially if you are lonely,” he says. “The Internet provides an opportunity to get involved in a much more anonymous affair, where there’s way less potential for detection.”
Just how bad is the problem of adultery? More than one-third of men and one-quarter of women have had at least one extramarital sexual experience, according the Janus Report on Sexual Behavior. Other estimates place those numbers as high as 60 percent for men and 45 percent for women.
Compounding the issue is cyber-cheating, or emotional affairs that occur online, says Stephany Alexander, a Scottsdale infidelity expert and founder of Womansavers.com, a free dating screening service.
“In my opinion, cyber-cheating is definitely a doorway which can lead to actual physical cheating,” says Alexander, co-author of an infidelity guide, “The Cheat Sheet.” “If your partner is taking time away from intimacy spent with you because of cyber-cheating, it can be just as destructive and painful as a physical affair.”
While there are more online opportunities to pursue affairs, the Internet also provides additional avenues to investigate and nab a straying spouse.
“I think what we’ve done is create new forms of evidence. I call it digital lipstick — a voicemail, text message, email,” says Biderman. “If you don’t approach it effectively and use the right kind of service, there is a lot more evidence being left behind by people having affairs.”
To conceal their lecherous tracks, many cheaters use electronic devices that encrypt and hide computer files. For smart phones, new apps also claim to permanently erase incriminating texts, “helping cheaters to get away with it.”
Even if a cheater employs these tools, however, digital indiscretions can easily be uncovered, says Alexander.
“It’s impossible with technology today to cheat on your partner and get away with it,” she says. “If you know what you’re doing you can catch anyone doing anything.”Affairs of the Heart
Pretty and petite with big brown eyes and a flawless smile, Beth Wilson had never had any trouble attracting the opposite sex. Her problem was with the particular brand of jerk that continuously drifted in her direction.
When she was 21, she married her high-school sweetheart — a former marine. Together they bought a house and were preparing to have kids when she discovered he had been carrying on an eight-month affair with an 18-year-old mistress.
Through tears, she confronted him and he reluctantly admitted to the transgression. Afterward, she forced him to confess to his mother, alerted his mistress to the fact he was married, had him ex-communicated from his church and filed for divorce, which was finalized in 2004.
“When I was leaving I said, ‘I can’t even believe this,’” Beth says. “I just looked at him and smacked him twice in the face and walked away.”
After that, she developed some super-sized trust issues, and in her subsequent relationships was uber diligent about guarding against infidelity.
But all that anxiety seemed to vanish in March 2011, when she met a 34-year-old airport manager who owned his own home and loved her three dogs.
He was charming and romantic — a total gentleman. And he knew all the right things to say. On their third date he told her he was madly in love.
“For the first four months he was amazing. He was really sweet and he doted on me completely,” she says. “Everything was easy and perfect and wonderful. I was crazy about him.”
Soon, the cracks in Mr. Right’s veneer began revealing themselves. Suddenly, work was just sooo demanding. He wasn’t returning her calls and couldn’t make time to see her. When he introduced her to a co-worker or friend, she noticed no one had even heard of her, much less knew that he had a girlfriend.
Then, in October 2011, she went to his house and discovered all of her belongings had been hidden in a drawer. It turned out he had secretly been seeing another woman.
He apologized, of course. And naturally Beth forgave him. But their relationship was never the same. After weeks of groveling and months of good behavior, she quit her nursing job in Mesa and moved into his home in Surprise.
That’s when she first recognized his strange computer habits. When she logged onto his computer, she noticed his Internet history had been erased, as if he had something to hide. So Beth went into detective mode, installing the keystroke logger.
In July, a week after returning from a 14-day vacation in Michigan, she discovered the email responding to the Craigslist personal.
That night Beth confronted her boyfriend, but she wasn’t about to confess how she actually discovered this information.
“Did you contact a woman on Craigslist?” she asked.
“No, Babe. Why would you even ask me that?” he replied.
His strategy: deny, deny, deny.
“Of course not, I would never do that. I love you,” he insisted.
But the panicked look in his eye betrayed him. Moments later he was back on his computer, searching Google for terms including, “How to tell if your Gmail account has been hacked.”
A few feet away in the other room, Beth watched his frantic search from her cell phone. Then, he sent himself an email addressed to Beth, “Are you having my email forwarded or do you just know my password?”
A cold rush of anxiety washed over her. He figured it out … sort of. He realized he had been caught, but wasn’t sure how.
She knew. He knew. She knew he knew. And he knew she knew he knew. But neither of them was about to admit that they knew the other knew.
That night they ate dinner in silence, watched a movie and went to bed.
“Neither of us slept. I could literally feel him sitting up in bed being tense the entire night,” she says. “It was absolute crazed panic. I was panicked, he was panicked. I had a thousand things racing through my mind and I was very, very confused. I had a lot tied to this person. Every possession I owned, including my dogs, was in his house.”
But she also realized she could not stay with that cheating scum.
The next morning she began implementing her escape plan. She packed up her car, gathered her dogs and went to stay at her mom’s house in Scottsdale. She was forced to temporarily leave everything else at his place, including her furniture and most of her clothes.
Beth had broken free. But the game was not quite over, not even close.
Software and surveillance equipment can transform any suspicious lover into a private detective. But cyber-spying on your mate is risky, and unwarranted distrust can ruin an otherwise healthy relationship, says Stephany Alexander.“I don’t think it’s good to spy on them unless they give you a reason,” she says. “But if your boyfriend has given you an indication he is cheating, a lot of women believe that discovering the truth is the most important thing.”
If you suspect your partner is cheating, don’t ignore your instincts, Alexander says. However, it’s best to not confront them until you have indisputable proof of the affair. And the best way to obtain that evidence is through surveillance — secret surveillance.
“My biggest advice is that if you use these devices to catch them cheating, never let them know how you found out,” Alexander says. “You never know how someone will react to finding out they were being spied on. It can lead to a lot of problems.”
There are a slew of personal products for computers and smart phones that make it relatively cheap and easy to monitor everything a person does electronically.
One of the most popular and effective devices is the same one Beth Wilson used — a keystroke logger, which captures passwords, emails, documents and screenshots of websites.
Similar devices for smart phones allow users to see text messages and phone calls. Cellular spyware can also be installed on any phone permitting the user to eavesdrop on every conversation made and received.
Another popular tool is the GPS tracking device, which can easily be hidden and used to broadcast its location on the Internet, says Dana Young, a private detective and co-owner of the Discovery Detective Academy in Scottsdale.
“GPS can be helpful in certain circumstances,” she says. “These days the devices are a lot more accurate than the old technology used to be. They’re a lot smaller now and it’s a lot easier to conceal.”
A slightly less high-tech option is a voice-activated digital recorder that can be hidden under a bed or car seat to record your partner’s conversations, she says.
While these devices are useful, they can also be incriminating. In many states phone and computer monitoring is illegal. In Arizona, the House recently passed a bill making it illegal to stalk a person using electronic communication like text, emails and instant messaging, although these tools can still be used by a third-party private detective.
“The technology is so new and there are new laws evolving around it all the time,” Young says. “People have a right to know, but they don’t have to right to be overly intrusive on a person.”
Twenty-five-year-old Phoenix student Jennifer McMahon wasn’t even spying on her boyfriend when she caught him cheating online. Late last year she logged onto her Facebook account and saw he had been “tagged” in a recent photo posing romantically with another woman.
“I contacted the woman on Facebook and discovered she knew nothing about me,” Jennifer says. “My boyfriend, of course, denied everything. Then, he admitted to cheating once, and then twice and then I learned he had dated several different women.”
Jennifer broke up with her boyfriend. Soon after, so did the other woman.
“I’m grateful that I found out,” she says. “Our relationship seems like it was nothing more than an illusion now.”
Miles away from her cheating boyfriend, and staying at her mom’s house in Scottsdale, Beth Wilson continued to monitor his every online move.
Alone at his house, he continued to browse and respond to Craigslist personal ads. As she watched from her iPhone, Beth was disgusted.
Each time she confronted him, hoping he would confess or at least stop, but he continued to deny his indiscretions and seemed dumbfounded as to how she knew.
“Do you have cameras in my house?” he asked at one point.
Later, he changed his Gmail password to: “QuitSpyingOnMe,” a message to his beloved that he was aware she was watching. For a brief period, he thought she had actually contacted every Arizona woman on Craigslist, alerting them to the fact that he had a girlfriend. So, he expanded his search to California.
For nearly a month they verbally sparred, battling 12 bloody rounds in the ring.
“I’m not dumb. Stop treating me like an idiot. It’s demeaning,” she said. “I know what you’re doing on Craigslist.”
“I am going to keep repeating this — I don’t want to hear about Craigslist,” he said. “Craigslist is not what is driving us apart.”
“I am going to repeat this,” she countered. “I have your emails, and that is the exact reason we are no longer together.”
Eventually, he admitted that he knew she had his password, but had given up on figuring out how.
Exasperated, Beth finally confessed, breaking the first rule of cyber-spying: never talk about cyber-spying.
“You want to know how I know?” she said, delivering the final jab. “I installed a keystroke logger on your computer!”
Suddenly, he got very quiet. For about a half a second, he tried to use the “right to privacy” argument, but that didn’t seem to carry much weight considering she was his live-in girlfriend.
“That’s more of a violation of trust than anything I did,” he had the nerve to say. “I want a relationship with trust.”
“So do I!” she shot back. “I don’t want to be with someone I have to check on. I wanted to know you’d be faithful. But how am I supposed to trust you when you’ve done nothing but lie and cheat?”
“The audacity of this man is astounding to me,” Beth later recalled. “If he had nothing to hide, why would it have mattered?”
Meanwhile, Beth slowly began to rebuild her life. She also got her job back at the hospital and last month, while he was at work, she stopped by his house with a moving truck and retrieved her belongings.
It might not be exactly what he deserved, but at least she knows the truth.
“I could have picked up a disease, I could have had a kid with this man,” she says. “I’d always rather know. I think most people would rather know.”
So that’s how one tech-savvy nurse caught her cheating ex. How to get over the betrayal is a different story. The wound is still fresh and the pain is still very real.
Looking back, she realizes the very fact that she had to monitor his online activity should have been enough cause to end their relationship. And that’s the advice she has for any other lovelorn ladies.
“If you’re installing a keystroke logger on his computer, you already know,” Beth says. “If you think your boyfriend is cheating on you, he is.”
Note: The dialogue in this story contains actual email and text message conversations between Beth Wilson and her boyfriend, whose name was withheld from the story to protect his identity … even though he may not deserve it.
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