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March 1, 2012

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'Mistress-hunting' detectives often cheat, themselves

AN increasing number of private detective agencies, under the cover of licensed consulting companies, are emerging in the city to meet rising demands from desperate wives and offering expensive services to hunt for their husbands' mistresses.

But in the absence of laws to regulate such businesses, these Sherlock Holmes-style "mistress hunters" are also setting up traps to cheat their helpless customers by demanding extra money, a Shanghai Daily investigation revealed.

In the latest case, the Hunter Detective Agency was ordered by a Shanghai court to return 10,800 yuan (US$1,716) to its customer, a local woman Lin Dong, after she sued the agency for raising its service fee in the middle of an investigation.

Lin told the court that she hired detectives from the agency to look into her brother's marriage, as she believed her brother's wife was cheating on him.

The agency boasted that their detectives were all retired army men equipped with advanced devices to help her collect evidence of extramarital affairs, and Lin paid the service fee in advance.

But before the investigation was even over, the detectives asked Lin to buy them extra equipment and threatened to halt their probe if she didn't pay. The court ruled that the contract signed by Lin and the agency was of no legal effect and the agency was ordered to return the entire service fee back to her.

A Shanghai Daily investigation has found that many detective agencies are offering "mistress-hunting" services.

These agencies typically charge a very high service fee in advance and promise their clients that they will tail their targets, wiretap their phone calls or even use satellite technology to collect evidence.

"We can assure you that no mistresses may run away from our cameras in this city," said a detective surnamed Gao with Leinuo Detective Agency on Yan'an Road M. "We hear what they say and we see where they go."

Gao told a Shanghai Daily reporter posing as a customer that an investigation into a suspected extramarital affair would cost 8,000 yuan to 10,000 yuan and would take less than a week before the detectives came up with evidence.

Gao said the most common but effective trick was to hack into a target's cell phone.

"All you have to do is to borrow your wife's cell phone and spend one minute to install a simple software," said Gao. "Then you wait for us to send you the smiling faces of the couple in their hotel room. Just don't get your heart broken."

To prove their professionalism, Gao provided a list of the equipment his firm uses, which seems straight out of a James Bond movie. It includes cameras built into lighters, cigarette boxes and glasses, voice recorders installed in tiny fasteners, night-vision goggles, and even an electronic baton with a bullet-proof vest.

"We don't expect life endangerment, but people often get violent when they find they are followed," Gao said.

He claimed that he purchased all of the equipment at online shopping stores.

To get started, the customer must pay half the total service fee in advance. Although the agency signs a contract with the customer, the contract does not carry any legal weight, so it's difficult for customers to protect their rights, the local court warned.

Local lawyer Wang Zhan said the detective business is growing in a chaotic fashion, as laws are lacking to regulate the market.

"So far no laws have been made to ban those detective agencies if they are registered as consulting firms," said Wang. "They can be punished only when someone reports to a local market watchdog that they are illegally running the business."


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