Love rats beware! Cheap DIY spy gadgets – from tiny hidden cameras to undetectable tracking devices – are making it easy for people to catch cheating partners. But is it strictly legal?
- The global commercial spyware industry is worth an estimated £9.6 billion
- Law firm claims one in five of its divorce clients admits to using spy equipment
Divorce is on the rise; infidelity too. Now, for suspicious partners riven with jealousy, there is a motley array of cheap high-tech solutions designed to satisfy their pressing need to know if their loved one is straying. It means love rats should never be able to rest easy again.
The global commercial spyware industry is worth an estimated £9.6 billion – and the market is booming. Innovations include spy apps that hack into phones, cameras hidden in smoke detectors, tissue boxes and photo frames, and even home-testing DNA kits to check clothes and bedding.
And while distrustful spouses might once have hired a private investigator at a cost of up to £1,300 a day, some of today’s tech sells for as little as £28.
One leading law firm told The Mail on Sunday that one in five of their divorce clients has admitted to using spy equipment to track their partners. And the technology is also being used by domestic abusers, according to a leading charity (see box below).
While it is not illegal to sell the devices, it usually is to use them in this way. Covert surveillance breaches privacy rights and legislation relating to coercive control, stalking and harassment. Despite this, many of the companies selling equipment boast in adverts of how effective their device is in exposing an errant spouse, but hidden in the products’ terms and conditions they warn against the practice.
For suspicious partners riven with jealousy, there is a motley array of cheap high-tech solutions designed to satisfy their pressing need to know if their loved one is straying
One lawyer has branded the flourishing market ‘morally bankrupt’ and experts say companies should be banned from selling spy gear.
Criminal lawyer Ben Brown said: ‘The law simply has not caught up with how fast technology has developed. It is only a matter of time before the Government considers imposing restrictions on the sale of these devices and apps.’
MP Caroline Nokes, who chairs the Commons’ Women and Equalities Select Committee, said: ‘Some of the marketing strategies being used are playing into people’s paranoia and effectively encouraging stalking.’
SPYING APPS ON MOBILE PHONES
‘Spouseware’ apps can be secretly installed on a partner’s mobile phone alarmingly easily – they can be downloaded in moments when their back is turned. The technology is untraceable and allows the user to view phone calls, messages and social media apps; access and download photos and videos; and log everything that the user types, including passwords. It even provides livestream video and audio.
An example of so-called Spouseware is uMobix. It costs £36 a month and markets itself as ‘the No 1 app to catch a cheater’, saying in an online advert: ‘Think your spouse might be cheating on you? Find out the truth today with most powerful spyware! 100 per cent undetectable.’
‘Spouseware’ apps can be secretly installed on a partner’s mobile phone alarmingly easily – they can be downloaded in moments when their back is turned
Apps allowing parents to monitor their children online boomed during the pandemic and are legal. So uMobix uses this in its difficult-to-access terms and conditions, saying the service should be used only for ‘parental control of children’ or ‘with consent of the device owner’.
Suspect your lover might be on the dating app Tinder? The app Cheaterbuster says it can find if your partner has a profile. Its website reads: ‘For £13.99 and five minutes’ effort, you can buy yourself some peace of mind when wondering: ‘Is she on Tinder?’
TRACKERS HIDDEN IN VEHICLES
Small tracking devices are now available that can be planted surreptitiously in a vehicle. Trackershop UK, an online website selling GPS trackers, has a webpage titled ‘Car tracking devices for cheating spouse’. It sells vehicle trackers with ‘real-time’ tracking from £42. Its website proclaims: ‘Countless people have already used car trackers to expose a cheating spouse… and have been using them to gather indisputable evidence of someone’s extramarital activity.’
The website acknowledges that ‘GPS tracking anyone without their consent is a controversial topic’ and states it ‘cannot give legal advice on how to track a car’.
Small tracking devices are now available that can be planted surreptitiously in a vehicle
Pakatak, another UK retailer for ‘spy cameras and GPS trackers’ advertises ‘covert GPS tracker for cheating spouse/partner’. Its website reads: ‘Are you worried that your partner may be cheating? Wondering if they really are at work or the gym when they say they are? Would you like to put your mind at rest? If you answer yes, then maybe a covert GPS tracker could help. Hiring a private investigator is another option but can be very expensive…’
When contacted by the MoS, website founder Alan Pakatak said: ‘This is maybe an older post that I should take down. I rarely hear of customers using or wanting to use a tracker for this purpose. From customer feedback, the trackers are usually used to act as anti-theft devices.’ Trackershop also said it specialises ‘predominantly in vehicle theft prevention products’.
The owner of this GPS device can watch its movements live on their mobile phone
MATCHING PHONE NUMBERS AND USERS
Phone number trackers are often seen as another option by suspicious partners.
CellTrack, a website based in the Netherlands, advertises ‘worldwide telecom-trace’ packages for £18 that allow customers to search a phone number and find the phone’s user in just five seconds. The trace is ‘completely invisible to the user of the device’. CellTrack’s website states: ‘Is your husband working late at the office? Now you don’t have to worry about that, cause if they won’t dignify you with the truth, the best phone number tracker will.’
This ‘smoke alarm’ is actually a camera, which streams a live video to the owner’s laptop
But the website later states: ‘Even though this mobile phone tracking service is anonymous, you do need permission to use it… What that means is that stalking isn’t allowed, and we do not support it.’
Last year, a British woman put a tracking device in her husband’s car and discovered he was sneaking out at night to be unfaithful. She wrote online that her husband was ‘furious’ that she had invaded his privacy and moved out of the family home.
In 2017, a married mother from Birmingham discovered that her husband had a secret lover after using a tracking app on his phone. Khadijah Bilal, 33, said at the time: ‘I outsmarted him. He thought he was so clever getting away with it, but he wasn’t.’
CAMERAS HIDDEN ALL AROUND THE HOME
A motion-activated camera, which also works to gather video in low light, is hidden inside this tissue box
A battery-powered camera is concealed within the flowers of this fake houseplant
Sinister cameras hidden inside the home have become ever more sophisticated and smaller. Spy Equipment UK encourages customers to become ‘DIY Detectives’ using new technology at ‘a fraction of the cost’ of using private investigators.
Abusers using spyware to stalk their partners
Spyware is being used by domestic abusers to track their victims.
Domestic abuse charity Refuge says there has been a consistent rise in victims stalked with spy technology. They created a specific department to monitor the problem, which has seen a 258 per cent increase in cases in the last four years.
Refuge’s Fran Ferrier, who works on the technology-facilitated abuse team, said the growing spyware market was ‘extremely concerning’ and urged retailers to ‘remove these products from sale’.
Spyware is being used by domestic abusers to track their victims
Katherine Bevan, 42, from Cardiff, was a victim of this abuse. She was tracked by her husband who feared she was unfaithful.
Christopher Bevan installed a hidden GPS tracker in her car bonnet, put secret cameras in the family home and installed an app on to her mobile to monitor her texts, social media and internet searches.
Last year, Mr Bevan was charged with coercive and controlling behaviour and handed a 12-month suspended sentence and a ten-year restraining order.
‘I’d like all these companies promoting spyware to be shut down,’ Ms Bevan told the MoS. ‘Having all your privacy stripped away from you is not nice. Technology allowing people to spy on others should not be so easily available.’
Its website reads: ‘If you can no longer take the worry of a cheating partner, you might want to consider purchasing hidden spy gear to catch them in action.
‘At Spy Equipment UK, we understand that this is an incredibly complicated situation. We are here to help you gain the evidence to prove your partner is cheating so that you gain peace of mind and move on from your cheating husband or wife.’ The website offers cameras hidden in wi-fi boxes, clocks, smoke alarms, coffee cups, plant pots, tissue boxes and air fresheners.
The MoS also found two smoke detectors fitted with hidden cameras for sale for under £50 on Amazon that were described as being used ‘to keep an eye on your unfaithful partner’. Other advertised uses included monitoring a nanny, lodger, roommate, babysitter and employees ‘at home, bedroom, office or anywhere else’. It is understood these uses do not violate Amazon’s privacy policies.
Last month, a 50-year-old woman caught her husband cheating by putting a secret recorder under the seat of his car. She wrote on web forum Mumsnet: ‘Low and behold I heard the whole SEX session. I knew he would never be honest.’
WEBSITES OFFERING DNA TESTING
Also available are home DNA tests for stains found on sofas, bed sheets and clothes. Six UK-based websites including Amazon and eBay offer ‘fidelity testing kits’ designed to give ‘a scientific indication of whether cheating has taken place’.
One test, sold for £28.40 on eBay, said it was ‘designed to monitor the sexual activity of your wife/partner/spouse outside the relationship by detecting traces of semen left on undergarments’. It ‘takes just minutes to complete’.
An eBay spokesman said: ‘We strongly condemn listings of this kind; they are against our policies and have no place on eBay. We removed this item as soon as it was flagged to our team and have conducted further sweeps of our site to remove any similar items.’
Two other British companies offered more advanced ‘infidelity tests’ that analysed DNA samples in their own lab to identify ‘whether a suspicious stain is from a male or female and even confirm who it belongs to’.
The firms did warn customers it is a criminal offence under the Human Tissue Act to test a person’s DNA without their consent.
Perhaps no surprise then, that Maguire Family Law, a leading divorce firm, told the MoS that one in five of its 400 divorce clients has admitted to using spy equipment to track their partners, a 60 per cent increase in ten years.
Also available are home DNA tests for stains found on sofas, bed sheets and clothes. Six UK-based websites including Amazon and eBay offer ‘fidelity testing kits’
Director Jennifer Curtis said: ‘There is no need to prove affairs in light of the divorce reforms, so it’s concerning that the tech industries are trying to prey on people’s vulnerabilities.’
Karen Dovaston, a solicitor specialising in family law, said she had a client who sewed recording devices into their child’s school uniform to record conversations with their partner.
She told the MoS: ‘New technology has made it so easy to spy on our spouses and created a real temptation for people.’
The country said to have the highest infidelity rate in Europe is Spain – and one Spanish company, Durmet, claims to sell a mattress with vibration sensors built into the bed springs that will send an alert to an app on your phone if it ‘detects deception’.
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