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The Sex, Lies and Videotape Business

Relationships: Ever wonder if your spouse is faithful? Or what the result of a little temptation would be? A new company tests the fidelity factor by using sexy decoys.

March 11, 1997|J. R. MOEHRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAGUNA NIGUEL — Hopeless romantics see love as something to celebrate.

Others prefer to investigate.

They're the clients--26 so far--of a new Orange County company called Fidelity Information Recovery, which sounds like a bank but works like a Love Bunco Squad.

For a onetime fee of $350, the friendly folks at Fidelity put your mate to the ultimate test, sending an attractive "decoy" to his or her favorite gym or bar.

The decoy approaches seductively, then flirts, teases and vamps with abandon as a hidden microphone and camera capture the encounter.

"We provide the opportunity for indiscretion," says Fidelity founder Steve Cox, a 38-year-old Laguna Niguel entrepreneur. "Whether or not they take the opportunity, that's where the truth of the matter lies."

A soft-spoken husband and father, Cox tries to lead a quiet life when not trying to trap those who stray.

"It's stressful," he says, admitting that his wife sometimes wishes he'd find another line of work, until she sees how lucrative "love investigations" can be. "We try to keep it off of a negative vibe, but it's innate. It's the nature of the business."

Cox got the idea for his business one afternoon last year while watching daytime TV. A tabloid talk show was devoting its hour that day to the topic of infidelity, and Cox heard the frantic knock of opportunity, like a jealous lover at the door. Now, he's the Anti-Cupid of Orange County.

As a former investigator for law firms, Cox had confidence in his sleuthing skills. He needs no special license because he does not offer the services of a private investigator. And as a lifelong Orange County resident, he had equal confidence in his Rolodex, certain he'd be able to cull effective decoys from his circle of friends.

He publicized his services in the personal ads. "Infidelity?" his ad reads. "You have a right to know."

His pager has been chirping ever since.

Over the eight months he's been in business, Cox has learned a little about love, a lot about deception, and several key lessons about cocktail-hour interrogations, making him a strange combination of Sgt. Joe Friday and Dr. Ruth.

Here's the most important thing to remember, he tells a new decoy: When trying to trip someone up, be fast, be direct. Get the subject to agree to break the Seventh Commandment, then excuse yourself and leave the premises.

Too many things go wrong if you dawdle.

One night a client insisted on sitting in a car outside the bar, listening while the sting went down. (Normally, clients wait at a neutral site.) Hearing her husband act in an unattached fashion, the client bolted from the car and confronted him, the sort of volatile flare-up that Cox now strives to avoid.

*

Most of Cox's clients are women, though a few Doubting Thomases have hired him to investigate their fiancees or girlfriends. And for everyone who believes sociology can overcome biology, Cox has troubling news: Men almost always take the bait, women never.

"All the male decoys came back empty-handed," Steve says. "They were politely rebuffed."

Among Cox's customers is Beverly, a 45-year-old grandmother who lives on the southern edge of Orange County. Married 23 years, she began wondering about her husband when "things suddenly started being different--more late dinners, some weekend trips."

Then she spotted Cox's ad.

"I told him where my husband would be," she says. One hour later, Steve and a decoy obtained videotaped proof that Beverly's husband was behaving like a sailor on shore leave.

"He was not being the kind of husband he should be," Beverly says. "I haven't taken action about it yet. I've been trying to figure out in my mind just exactly what I'm going to do.'

Though their work can lead to the dissolution of marriages and the erosion of trust, Cox says his dozen or so decoys are a dedicated bunch, confident in the social value of what they do. Most work full time at other jobs. Among them are a housecleaner, a hairdresser and a general contractor.

"If the truth comes out, that's always best," says Vicky, a 23-year-old decoy who won't give her last name because her husband fears reprisal from a boyfriend or husband she catches publicly lusting. "We don't just mess up relationships, sometimes we make them better."

On one job, for example, Vicky found the husband in question to be honest and true. In fact, the husband gave her ideas about how his marriage could be better, which she then passed along to the wife.

"It's easy to make people open up," Vicky says. "They all want someone to talk to."

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