Is Your Lover Cheating? Follow the Money

Personal Finance
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Oh, our cheating hearts.

A 2011 Indiana University study of heterosexual couples found nearly a quarter of men and about one-fifth of women interviewed had cheated during a relationship. Other studies suggest that perhaps half of men and women have been unfaithful to a partner at some point in the past.

Private detectives and websites such as AshleyMadison.com, which matches people who are already in relationships, make a living from cheaters. Where are they busiest? Washington, D.C., is our national capital of adultery, according to AshleyMadison stats, followed by Houston, Miami, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.

Tiny Delaware punches above its weight as the state with the highest percentage of cheaters. The lowest? Mississippi, which is also the state with the lowest per capita income. There may be a connection there, too. Affaircare, a counseling website focused on fidelity in marriage, notes: “Cheating costs money! To play you must pay.”

So what are the hints your lover is stepping out on you? Like the advice given by Deep Throat to the reporting sleuths in “All the President’s Men,” searching for infidelity comes down to three words: Follow the money.

Something doesn’t smell right—literally

Is your lover suddenly wearing perfume or cologne? Suspicious changes in behavior are often mirrored in spending patterns. Sudden purchases of personal grooming products, clothing and gym membership, experts say, can raise the question: Who is this personal improvement campaign for?

Spike in text and cell phone bills

Evidence of an affair can often show up in phone bills. If you discover a new phone line or account has been opened, that’s a big red flag, according to Affaircare.

“An unfaithful spouse may appear to hide their mobile phone more often or become more protective of it,” suggests Spouse Spy, an Australian private investigation firm. “They may delete SMS messages and can often answer calls and suggest to you that the caller dialed the wrong number.”

More miles on the car

Have you checked the odometer lately? An increase in mileage or in spending on gas signals there are more miles being clocked than the distance it usually takes to get to work, says Spouse Spy. “Check to see if their vehicle has an increased amount [of miles] that are not coinciding with the distance from home to work.” Another automobile tell—the passenger seat constantly needs to be adjusted, according to First Wives World, a divorce support website.

Unusual credit card or ATM activity

Hotel and luxury charges on your lover’s credit card bill are a classic tell of an adulterous heart. But also unusual gifts for you could raise alarm bells. “If your usually frugal husband begins offering you expensive jewelry … a careful analysis of his credit card records may indicate that identical gifts were purchased for someone else,” says the lifestyle website Livestrong.

Strange behavior surrounding access to credit card records and the appearance of new credit cards can raise suspicions, too. Is your partner running for the mail? Has the password to online credit card or bank records been changed? Are you seeing an increase in ATM withdrawals at strange times and locales? Experts say these are adulterous tells.

Work, work, work

A cheating partner often uses work as a cover. Asks AffairCare: Are they spending more time in the office, but have less to show for it? Have they suddenly seen a spike in “work trips”? Are spouses being dissuaded from attending work events?

Legitimate business trips are often the setting of adulterous scenes. A 2013 poll of 100,000 people found that 36% of men and 13% of women have been unfaithful on a business trip.

Infidelity prevention: Bring on the bling

While some suggest a sudden spending spike on gifts for you may indicate a guilty heart, research from the University of Minnesota last year suggests women who wear luxury items actually ward other women away from their men. These items act as a signal that her man is especially devoted.

“It might seem irrational that each year Americans spend over $250 billion on women’s luxury products with an average woman acquiring three new handbags a year, but conspicuous consumption is actually smart for women who want to protect their relationship,” said study co-author Vladas Griskevicius. “When a woman is flaunting designer products, it says to other women, ‘Back off my man.'”

Illustration by Brian Yee.