TORONTO — Cheating spouses didn’t suddenly cut off their affairs during the pandemic, according to private investigators tasked with digging up evidence of extramarital relationships, and some say they’ve seen a spike in business since the early days of COVID-19.
In some cases, suspicion arises after one partner notices the other making up strange excuses to leave the house despite sweeping lockdown measures. In others, a divorced parent begins to believe their ex may be flouting public health measures and putting their kids at risk.
Adrianne Fekete, owner of Toronto-based Star Quality Private Investigations, said her business saw a 30 per cent spike in clientele in April, one month after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and demand has remained steady since. It seems COVID-19 has done little to deter people who were already carrying out secret relationships, she said.
“It just makes it more tricky and exciting for them,” Fekete told CTVNews.ca in an interview Wednesday.
With couples cooped up at home together, it’s easier to notice when something seems fishy, according to Trevor Haywood, president and CEO of Haywood Hunt and Associates Inc., a private investigative firm in Toronto that’s also seen a boost in calls.
“They see the telltale signs,” Haywood told CTVNews.ca. “They’re hiding their phones a lot more. And the partner is asking, ‘If that call is work related, why aren’t you picking up the phone?’”
Fekete and her husband manage a team of 28 former police detectives and officers. The core of their business is dealing with family law matters, such as a divorced couple at odds over childcare.
For example, Fekete’s team recently received a call from a divorced mother who was concerned that her ex-husband wasn’t respecting lockdown restrictions. Their four-year-old daughter has cancer and is immunocompromised, and the mother was afraid that her ex might be seeing other people and potentially exposing the child to COVID-19. However, the father said he was self-isolating at home with his parents and not seeing anyone else.
Investigators surveilled the father and found that he was spending time with a new girlfriend and attended an outdoor gathering without a mask.
Evidence gathered by investigators is often used in custody proceedings, either during pre-trial negotiations or presented before a judge.
“The cases we seem to be getting is one parent is very aware of what’s happening with the pandemic and the other person is totally self-absorbed or in denial,” Fekete said. “So people will call us because they’re terrified of the safety of their children.”
Companies are also reaching out to private investigators to see if employees are telling the truth about quarantine. In one case, Haywood said, an employer was suspicious that their employee was lying about being in self-isolation.
“One of their workers called in saying, ‘I am possibly exposed to COVID and I am self-isolating.’ Meanwhile, we have them out working for cash, building a deck in the spring, or landscaping, or doing a second job that no one was aware of,” he said.
Landlords have hired private investigators to track down tenants who’ve trashed a unit and skipped out on paying rent, Haywood said.
“They’ll hire us to locate these individuals to hold them accountable for payment,” he said.
On the flip side, tenants have hired private investigators over concerns that their landlord unfairly evicted them during the pandemic by lying that they didn’t plan to rent the place to someone else. In those cases, private investigators can help determine if a new tenant is living in the space, sometimes with increased rent.
Police across Canada noticed an increase in calls about domestic violence in the first four months of the pandemic. Fekete said her team, which also offers security, has been involved in cases to provide help for an individual who is trapped at home with an abusive partner and is looking for a way out.
“Knowing that we’re sitting outside is peace of mind for them,” she said. “Sometimes they will want to leave, so they have a small window of opportunity, so we’ll help them and they’ll have 15 minutes, 20 minutes to get out.”
Both Haywood and Fekete emphasized the importance of vetting clients before they take on a case to make sure that the concerns are sincere and they aren’t reaching out for the wrong reasons. Private investigations sometimes uncover personal challenges that a person was trying to hide, such as an addiction that is exacerbated during the pandemic, and it’s important to manage cases with care.
“Drug addiction, sex addiction, drinking and driving — it all goes back to the safety of the children,” Fekete said.
While some types of investigations are less in demand during the pandemic, these coronavirus-related calls have made up for the drop, Haywood said.
“It’s like a balancing act. There has been a wind-down on certain requests, but we’ve picked up in other areas,” he said.
Fekete said she sees more clients these days who’ve had a nagging concern about their spouse and finally decided to set aside the time and money to get answers.
“Hindsight is always great, but now with the pandemic I feel like it’s making everybody stop and take a personal inventory and say, ‘Is everything good under the roof?’”
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