Sooner or later, most cheaters get caught. Not all are tripped up by the scent of an unfamiliar cologne or perfume, however. Many are found out by their fishy charging and spending habits. Here's how to detect evidence of a love crime with some simple financial sleuthing.
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Sniff out suspicious spending
Take a tip from private detectives working on infidelity cases: Before blindly accusing, check credit and checking account statements for odd spending activity. "We use bank statements on a daily basis," says Marc Bourne, vice president for Know It All Intelligence Group in Bensalem, Pa. "It's an integral part of our investigation."
Bank employees also know how telling such statements can be. Denise Winston, founder of the personal financial education website Money Starts Here and a banker for more than 25 years, says she's "seen it all" when it comes to cheating spouses and how their shopping habits have brought them down. Therefore, she says, if you suspect adultery, gather statements from the past year and scrutinize each line item for funny business.
Among the red flags are unexplained and implausible charges for:
*Nights (and days) at hotels.
*Bar and restaurant tabs that indicate drinks and meals for two.
*Places that seem out of character, like restaurants specializing in ethnic cuisines they normally don't eat.
*Items at gift and flower shops.
*Jewelry and lingerie.
*Electronic equipment used for communicating on the sly, such as extra cellphones and computers.
*Vacation purchases, such as spa treatments, when on a work trip.
*Higher than normal gas expenses on a service station's credit card.
*Nebulously named businesses (escort agencies and massage parlors rarely indicate the type of company they really are).
*Monthly membership dues and one-off payments for dating websites such as match.com and live or video chat companies.
Indeed, some expenditures will stand out dramatically (it's tough to justify Victoria's Secret purchases for a client), but others might not be such obvious markers. Dig deeper, says Winston. In the case of an unusually expensive gas bill, for example, ask about it and listen for nonsensical excuses. "Cheaters come up with stories, like 'I had to go to Bob's and I knew you'd be mad.'" says Winston.
Pay special attention to ATM withdrawals on the checking account statements, too, says Bourne. "For debit cards, it will list where money has been drawn. If it's at a location they aren't supposed to be, the spouse may be up to something. We look for patterns -- taking out a certain amount of money or a certain time of day. Once we have that, we can a plan a surveillance."
Don't mind the balk: checking statements is your right
If you're married, you have a right to know what is going on financially -- and that means accessing both joint and individual accounts at will. With transparency, comes trust.
What happens when your spouse has made it particularly difficult to locate banking statements? Consider it a warning sign -- as are statements that used to be mailed to your home and are now rerouted to a post office box. A cheater may try to cover his charging trail by switching to online statements or blocking your access to accounts. "If you go to call on a credit card, and they've put a password on it that didn't exist before, that's a telltale sign that something is going on," warns Francine Gargano, a family law attorney in Watchung, N.J.
Don't let a little roadblock stop you; use the information you do have, says Winston. "You don't need to have joint accounts to get evidence," says Winston. "If you've been with that person long enough, you know their Social Security number, the mother's maiden name, etc. -- you can check!"
Pull credit reports for complete information
Nothing indicting on the statements, but your gut tells you your parter is straying? Obtain a copy of your credit report and look for joint loans or lines of credit that you were previously unaware of. You won't have complete information if your spouse borrowed only in his or her name, as a secret card will not show up on your credit report, so ask your partner to pull his credit report as well, and read it together.
"Checking each other's credit reports provides details about new accounts, balances owed, inquires, new cellphone accounts, etc.," says Winston, who explains that as with credit and checking account statements, if the other person is cagey about sharing, you have reason to question: "What are they hiding? Secret lives, loves, fetishes?"
If your partner refuses to hand over his report, you can't legally access his or her complete file, even if you're married. You can access just the credit report header, though, says Bourne, which lists all addresses for the previous 10 years. "If bills are being sent to a P.O. box or another location, it will show up there."
Add a text alert to credit accounts
Even if the statements and credit report turn up nothing, but you remain convinced that your loved one is loving someone else, you may have another way to catch him or her in the act. Add text alerts to jointly held accounts. Charges that are -- and aren't -- supposed to be made will ping on your cell phone immediately.
"I was sitting with a client who got a text alert that got him very upset," says Winston. "[His wife] was out when she wasn't supposed to be. He thought she was home watching the kids. She put charges on their joint account and he got the text." Because the spending was in real time, she couldn't dispute her wrongful whereabouts. Busted.
"This technology is a great help for us, says Bourne. "The text alert and email alerts are usually one of the first things we tell the spouse to do. Get something sent to your phone. Cheaters have a tendency to cover their tracks so by the time the statement comes in the mail, they've formulated their excuse. Alerts are a great backup."
After the financial evidence: be smart
"If you find indicting charges that indicate cheating, the knee-jerk reaction is to confront," says Gargano. "But let it go on for longer so you'll have more evidence." Compile all paperwork, keep copies of electronic files and start setting up a cash reserve if you're going to leave. When you tell the person what you've found, "you'll be confronted with why you were snooping," she warns. "So approach things carefully -- you don't know how dangerous of a situation you could be in." Remove your name from co-signed accounts and close them completely if you can as well.
Remember, too, that what goes around often comes around. Gargano recalls a woman who discovered her husband had a lover by checking his charging activity. "They eventually got divorced and he married the mistress. Fifteen years later, the new wife came to me, saying, 'I know my husband is cheating' and brought the credit card statements that proved it. I had to smile.'"