Why Is Valentine's Day a Boon for Private Investigators?

Instead of flowers and candy, some lovers request the services of a PI.

Posted Feb 13, 2020

Valentine’s Day is supposedly a boon for private investigators, with anxious spouses requesting surveillance of their partner on Valentine’s day or the day before, also known as “Mistress Day.” That’s also when Emmanuelle Welch, a private investigator in Brooklyn, turns down requests for sleuthing and suggests to potential clients to spend the money on a date.

Many private investigators stay away from what we call in the profession “domestic cases.” The common perception is that those cases have a propensity for becoming quickly too “messy” and taxing, involving clients in a highly emotional state, making frequent and long phone calls. Their attorneys are pressed by a court date or deadline to find evidence that sometimes isn’t there.

Because of my interest in using dating apps and hook-up sites in all sorts of investigations, a topic that I’ve written about and talked about at conferences, I often get contacted for domestic cases. I rarely take these cases unless the relationship is over and has turned into a fraud case, involving hidden asset searches, for instance. When it comes to ongoing relationships, more often than not, the caller is a relative who has their suspicion and acts “overprotective.” Most of the time, it’s someone in a committed relationship who is at a loss. I don’t mind the “messiness.”

In New York City, where I work, most of my cases are fraud cases, involving gigabytes of PDFs, nebulous entities, and sleek executives shielded by attorneys. Listening to a fellow human with a raw “affair of the heart” can be a welcome break. But my goal is to convince these people not to hire me.

What I’ve learned from these conversations is that, more often than not, people would be better off hiring a communication coach rather than a private investigator. They are asking you for information that, come to think of it, one should be able to ask their significant other if they just knew how to talk.

Once, a woman called me saying that she was falling in love with a lovely and hard-working gentleman, a citizen from a country in crisis with the United States. She wanted me to find out if he was a legal immigrant to the U.S. and had a valid visa. Valentine’s Day was coming and I told her: “Why don’t you use the money that you would spend on this investigation on a weekend escape to the Caribbean?” My theory was that, if he turned down her offer to take him on a trip, showing signs of nervousness, they should have a conversation about his reasons for not wanting to travel, his status in this country, and how their romance was coming into play. But if he said yes to the weekend away, there would be ample time for them to show each other their passports at the airport, discuss the joys of immigration bureaucracy, and enjoy some romantic walks on the beach. She liked the idea and I hope that she obtained the answers to her questions—by asking.

Another time, a man in the finance industry contacted me to have a forensic examination of his wife’s phone performed so that we could confirm his suspicion that she was having an affair. He also wanted to find out with whom. He thought that analyzing data from chat and ride-share apps could give clues.

“We’ve gone through this before,” he explained. “I cheated and she cheated. I’m not proud of myself, and she wasn’t either. We agreed back then that we wanted to stay married.” They also had children now. He wanted to raise them together, and, important detail: he loved his wife.

I suggested going on a date and asking her what’s going on. To him, it felt impossible. I warned him against falling into a circle of all-consuming suspicion and snooping. Also, they had managed to talk about their infidelities in the past, which should make it possible for them to have a new, honest conversation, alone or with a therapist. When the conversation veered towards opening up the marriage to outside relationships, I recommended reading on the topic. Practitioners of ethical non-monogamy have an accrued need to cultivate communication and honesty in relationships to make it work. Many resources, websites, and one particular podcast with the strapline “Want to suck less at communication?” contain many fresh ideas that can be used by anyone.

I certainly hope that this couple managed to talk. Ultimately, one of the signs that your ongoing relationship, in any form, is successful is when you don’t have a private investigator on your speed dial on Valentine’s Day.