12 November 2011

The Other Side of the "Sham" Marriage

The BBC has posted a great article about the burgeoning "wedding detective" trade in India, where there are apparently around 15,000 businesses willing to investigate a potential bride or groom. Most of the time these folks will be hired by the bride's family to investigate the groom and authenticate family status, verify income and capital assets, check for other wives or a history of infidelity, and verify sexual orientation. Says the BBC:

"The vast majority of enquiries come from parents who want to assess the 'character' of their future son-in-law ...

"The nature and scope of investigation depends on the moral or cultural values of parents. Someone from a more traditional Indian family might want to check up on whether a bride or groom drinks or smokes.

"Others might be keener to learn whether there are any past relationships, something which can still be frowned upon in India. Conducting a review of a groom's financial dealings and business assets is also common."

Because it is still fairly common for the bride to move in with her in-laws after marriage investigations can sometimes address the character of the potential mother in law:
"'We study the mother-in-law,' says [one detective]. 'How many times does she get angry, how many times does she throws the vessels out, how many times does she go shopping, what does she spend her money on. We understand everything about her and then put it in writing.'"
If only I'd known. Apparently, these investigations can become extraordinarily elaborate, involving "spy cameras hidden in watches, key chains, lockets and shirt buttons," complicated ruses and creative disguises:
"It is normal practice for [another detective] to wear disguises. He dresses as beggars, watchmen and drivers to gain access to a subject's house and life. There is no limit to what persona he might take on. [The detective] once posed as a pimp, after the parents asked for a 'honey trap' test."
Now, detectives are also hired in matrimonial matters in Canada, however here it's usually on an after-the-fact basis... or so I thought. For example, the oddly-named Deception Investigations claims to specialize in "domestic and matrimonial issues" and will surreptitiously investigate your beloved to determine whether he or she is having an affair, hiding assets and so forth, and also offers to chase people down who are in arrears of support. Much the same services are offered by Shadow Investigations and Advanced Surveillance Group.

However, reading Deception's website more closely reveals that they also offer "pre-marital screening." Another company, Surrey Private Investigator, offers the same sort of service under the curious heading "Relationship Investigations:"
"Does your lover have a secret past? Before you become involved with a person, you may decide to conduct a pre-relationship investigation for the purpose of looking into the background of the person with whom you share romantic interests or plan to marry. Isn't it important that you know if they are really who they say they are."
The website of Pinnacle Investigations is much more detailed about the services they offer:
"... A thorough back check is the key to making the right decisions when entering into new relationships where even the slightest suspicions are encountered. ... We conduct property searches, bankruptcy and judgment searches, lien searches, lifestyle checks and mystery shopping. ..."
Now, I can guess what "lifestyle check" is code for, but "mystery shopping" baffles me unless your fiancé or fiancée is a prostitute. Interestingly, Golden West Investigative Group takes a less literate, darker perspective on pre-marital inquiries, and seems to adopt the groom's perspective:
"When entering a partnership relationship (proposed marriage), there are times that one of the parties may be coming into the new marriage with considerably more assets than the other. It is becoming more common to have pre-nuptial agreements in such cases. It is also becoming more common for the party with the greater asset base to hire a firm like Golden West Investigative Group Ltd to conduct a thorough investigation and surveillance to make sure that everything is on the up and up before the marriage occurs. This may sound like a lack of trust but some people have enough assets to be an EASY MARK for a few unscrupulous people. It is sad... but so true in today's world of wealthy entrepreneurs. If you are entering a new relationship, be sure you know who your other future half really is."
It seems that the cultural background which makes the BBC story so charming isn't so far off from the values of the cynical but engaged in British Columbia!