How to Catch a Cheater: 11 Ways Technology Reveals Secrets

By: Bernadette Johnson  | 
No one wins when an affair comes to light, but it's necessary in order for healing to begin. LordHenriVoton / Getty Images

Learning how to catch a cheater can be fairly easy, thanks to our digital footprints.

Experts don't exactly agree on what percentage of people in supposedly monogamous relationships end up cheating; estimates run the gamut from 11 to 50 percent. Many study and survey results seem to fall around the 20 to 25 percent mark — still a sobering range.


In these days of instant digital communication and the information trail it leaves, there are more ways for your partner to discover your infidelity, even if you think you are carefully covering your tracks.

One issue is that just because you delete something from your computer or phone doesn't mean it's really gone. There are computer forensics companies that specialize in recovering data for suspicious spouses and other clients.

Recovery tools, as well as tracking and monitoring software and hardware, are also easy to obtain these days. And, as ever, your significant other can hire a private investigator, and he or she has access to lots of newfangled tools to spy on you.

An industrious partner can even find incriminating information without professional help by looking in a few key places on your shared computer, your phone or any social media sites you or your friends frequent.

There is always the danger of self-betrayal from lipstick on a collar to a hotel receipt in a pocket to a partner's behavior (i.e. acting guilty or suspicious). But the wondrous advancements of this digital age also give us new and creative ways to slip up.

But a percentage of people will cheat despite the breach in ethics or risk of discovery. Here are 11 ways technology — the very technology that is aiding them in their indiscretions — can betray cheating partners.

11. Email Trash Folder

Your partner can use your email to gather evidence. If you're sending emails to your affair partners and you're deleting it, you may still be leaving behind incriminating information if you do not permanently delete the email.

For example, Google keeps an email in your trash for 30 days if you do not go to your trash can and check the "delete forever" box.


10. Browser History

From autofill in your search bar to an odd set of targeted ads, your forays onto the web leave signs of what you have been doing for anyone with access to your computer to find.

Before you visit dating sites, buy gifts or make hotel reservations on a computer in your house, know that your partner can easily sniff out sites you've been visiting. You might want to set your browser to not save your history if you plan to engage in any illicit activities.


Even if you delete your browser history, cookies may still reveal what sites you've visited and even allow someone else to log into your accounts if you've allowed sites to remember you.

Other possible telltale signs of internet activity are temporary files of downloaded web content. Covering your tracks is never as simple as deleting your history, since a suspicious partner is likely to dig further.

9. Automatic Login and Password Storage

Someone with physical access to your computer could use software to discover passwords to various services and log into your accounts. But they might not have to go through the trouble. Another way cheaters can unknowingly give away their activities is by not being cautious with their computers, software application or various web sites.

Some programs, such as some messaging apps, will default to opening at startup if you do not change the settings during or after installation. You can even set your computer, browsers or other software to save passwords for applications and web sites for you.


Many sites allow you to select "Remember Me" to save your information via cookies so you don't have to rekey your information every time you visit them. And password management software is readily available to help you keep track of multiple logins or to log you into things with only a single master password.

Basically, it often doesn't take any specialized Google Chrome password hack to get in; default settings can make it easy, for better or worse.

8. Keyloggers and Stalking Apps

The threat of malware is a real, everyday concern, but a partner can employ the same sorts of programs that hackers use to steal your personal information (for reasons of identity or monetary theft) to trap a cheating spouse.

They can install a keylogger on your computer to record all the typing you do so someone else can check up on your online doings. They can either be of the software variety or hardware devices that plug in via USB or another connection port. Some hardware keyloggers can even transmit the logged data via WiFi.


Someone trying to catch a cheater might even install various snooping apps on their partner's phone to track their activity or whereabouts.

Such apps have legitimate purposes like locating a stolen phone or tracking your own children for reasons of safety or peace of mind. Of course, someone can use these programs for less than angelic purposes, like stalking, spying or even marketing from third parties.

Currently, someone with access to your phone (and who knows your phone lock code) can install apps specifically created to read your messages, track your movements and even activate your phone's microphone to allow them to listen to whatever you are doing.

It can be illegal for a cell company to share location information without user permission. However, a significant other installing such software on your phone may or may not be legal, depending upon who owns the phone and where the parties live.

There is a lot of gray area when it comes to digitally spying on your spouse, both because of joint ownership and because laws usually lag behind advances in technology.

7. Saved IM History Logs

If you are using a non-browser-based instant messaging client, the software might be storing log files of your personal exchanges on your computer unless you have specifically set it not to do so. Your partner could find and read these detailed transcripts of your conversations. And an industrious spouse could set the program to record history even if you've set it not to do so (again, beware of auto-logins).

These log files (along with emails and other private information) could also come up in searches done on desktop indexing applications, such as Google Desktop, which allow a user to search a computer's contents by typing in keywords.


Support for Google Desktop has been discontinued, but it still exists on lots of people's home computers, and there are other applications that do the same things out there. And the right combination of sex- and relationship-related keywords could bring the cheater's activities to light.

6. GPS Trackers and Recording Devices

Tracking hardware is no longer only spy fare. A person can place these somewhat affordable GPS tracking devices on or in a vehicle. Some may require monthly fees, just like a normal GPS. They can come in handy for tracking a stolen car or other property, but someone can also use them to track an errant partner, say one who has told you that he or she was working late.

In these days of easily accessible spy equipment and a Google Maps app you can access from your phone, it isn't that hard to catch someone in a locational lie. Plus, most smartphones these days have integrated GPS capabilities that can, if set up to do so, track your every move, as well.


There are also long-running voice-activated digital recording devices available for capturing incriminating audio of the person cheating. They can be used for more innocuous purposes — taking audio notes or conducting interviews — but like the GPS trackers, they have obvious snooping applications.

And they, too, aren't just relegated to specialty shops. You can pick these things up at major retailers like Best Buy and Amazon, and hide them in a car or in other personal belongings that will travel with your partner.

5. Sexting Apps That Give Users a False Sense of Security

Apps like Snapchat allow you to send photos, captions and videos that self-delete after a set amount of time (usually only a few seconds). Signal is a similar service but for text messages rather than images.

Teens reportedly widely use these apps to sext (the texting equivalent of phone sex), pass notes and even cheat on tests. But a cheating spouse may also be using them to send messages to a paramour on the sly under the false assumption that the evidence will disappear forever.


One major loophole is the ability of the receiver of such messages to take screenshots, take a photo with another device or otherwise save the interaction, thus thwarting the expected self-destruction.

The Snapchat app notifies if someone takes a screenshot, but there are ways the receiver can get around that, too, especially on a jailbroken phone. And there's certainly no notification if someone takes a photo with another device.

The company's privacy policy even states that there is no guarantee that images will be deleted, and users are sending at their own risk. Anything you send can end up online or otherwise viewed by people for whom you did not intend it.

A suspecting partner can also buy monitoring software or hardware that can recover deleted pictures and other data from phones or SIM cards. Just like with other types of data, deleting doesn't necessarily mean a picture is unrecoverable.

4. Mobile Device Call and Text Histories

Even if your cell phone is devoid of spyware, your phone can still betray your cheating ways. Like the browser history, most mobile phones keep a history of recent calls.

If your spouse knows your password or if you don't have the phone password-protected, it only takes a moment to check the device for dialed numbers, and possibly names if you have your paramour's contact information stored. The same goes for text messages, which can be even more incriminating than a record of cell phone calls, especially if you've engaged in sexting.


Even if you are crafty enough to password protect, delete history and use privacy apps, your phone bill and betray you. A bill can list the phone number, date, time and duration of every call you've made each month, and may contain similar information about texts.

Your phone company may even keep copies of texts you've sent, at least for a little while. They could keep them for hours, days or months, depending on the situation.

Most companies are deleting them faster and faster as their server space fills up. And getting copies, even of your own texts, currently requires a court order. But this is another indicator that anything you send may not be as temporary as you think.

3. Auto-notification Emails and Account Statements

This is akin to the pre-digital cheating discovery methods of finding a receipt in a pocket or noticing revealing purchases on credit card or bank statements mailed to your house.

Even if you opt not to receive paper bills or statements, your spouse can receive or run across statements via emailed notifications and may be able to peruse online statements if you share accounts or if you allow your computer to save auto-login information.


Most companies email statement notifications out to customers who have allowed it, and they often prompt you to switch from paper to electronic notifications for environmental and cost-saving reasons.

A cheating partner might opt for these, thinking they are safer than the physical evidence of paper. And truly, most emails of this nature don't contain itemized information, but they can be the breadcrumbs that lead to more detailed online statements.

If you have a hidden account or two — say, for an additional mobile line or an extra credit card or bank account opened just for dalliances — there will still likely be a digital trail that leads to and from you via your computer or phone. So you can't assume an extra phone or gifts or clandestine hotel stays will remain secret forever.

In the case of the phone, a prepaid or disposable phone might solve the statement issue, but the very existence of a second phone might serve as a clue to your significant other.

2. Social Media Might Not Be as Private as You Think

A large percentage of the population uses social media sites for communication and sharing the details of their personal lives. Facebook and other such sites gather an incredible amount of information about you, and their policies change occasionally.

Knowing what settings you need to check to keep things as private as possible can be complicated. We may think we have the privacy settings figured out and know who is viewing our posts and pictures, but one policy update or added feature and suddenly activity you meant to be private could be public or more public than you had hoped.

Even if you are on top of all the settings, your friends and even your apps can share information about you that might unintentionally incriminate you. Apps like Venmo can give away your physical comings and goings. Friends might check you into places, tag photos of you or make offhand comments online that could expose your lies.

So even more likely than someone purposefully recording your every word or move is accidental betrayal by social media.

1. Human Error

A person might make the mistake of failing to protect against many of the issues from the previous pages or of leaving information lying in plain sight for a loved one to find. Haven't you ever sent an IM, text or e-mail to the wrong person, or unintentionally posted something to a wider audience than you intended?

These errors are common, sometimes thanks to auto-complete or our increasingly quick digital communication reflexes that cause us to hit send before we realize we've done something wrong.

But in an affair situation, you're also trusting another party not to make any mistakes that might give you away. Even if you're a security buff who is very careful to cover your trail, who is to say your partner in crime is doing the same?

Most uncovered dalliances will not result in national publicity or resignation from a high-level government post, but they will cause the pain and suffering of everyone involved.

And seriously, just think for a moment about the fact that the head of the CIA couldn't keep an affair hidden. Pretty much everyone is likely to slip up somewhere down the line. And in this day and age, it's likely to be a technological slip-up.

Lots More Information

Author's Note

One bad thing about writing this article is that it made me look into a seedy side of life I often ignore. Who knew there were so many sites and apps that cater to people trying to hide things from their significant others? Perhaps I should have suspected. I have watched "Cheaters," as well as a lot of TV shows and movies where people hired private investigators to look into their spouse's indiscretions. And it's not like I've never had an impure thought. But I am a bit of a goody-two-shoes. I think I'll choose to ignore all the new mechanisms to aid in betrayal for a while longer for sanity's sake. Another bad thing is that just researching it has probably left a pretty suspicious browser trail on my computer. I'll have to have a discussion beginning "Oh, by the way, honey ... " with my partner in the near future.

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