When you have a hit TV show, there’s a lot of money to be made in ancillary products, such as t-shirts, notebooks, stickers or mousepads.
But when your show is “Cheaters,” a syndicated reality series that investigates cheating spouses and records the often-violent confrontations that ensue, your options are limited.
No matter that the show is in season 12, its sordid subject matter makes it hard to market, say, a “Cheaters” spaghetti sauce, or designer perfume.
The show did participate in a “No Cheaters” dating website for a while, but now series creator Bobby Goldstein thinks he’s found a better product for his corporate brand: A website that sells spy goods.
It’s called Cheaters Spy Shop, and sells all sorts of surveillance gear for suspicious minds, including recovery sticks that can pull up anything currently on the iPhone and even recover deleted information; mobile software that will send a person all texts and pictures being sent, web history, call logs, and GPS location every 30 minutes; and even motion-activated hidden cameras that record any movement and activity in high resolution.
“We also sell audio recorders that look like pens,” Allen Watson, president of the Cheaters Spy Shop, told HuffPost Weird News. “They’re great if you’re getting harassed at work. You put them in your pocket to get evidence of harassment for the H.R. department.”
The Cheaters Spy Shop opened three months ago and Bobby Goldstein, the creators of the “Cheaters” TV show, wishes he had thought of it years ago.
“I’m slothful,” Goldstein admitted to HuffPost Weird News. “I should’ve started soon, but it took me 10 seasons to realize that I’m a businessman, not just a TV producer.”
But it isn’t as simple as signing on and spying away. The laws regarding surveillance devices differ from the state to state and there are various ethical questions surrounding their use by average citizens, according to Mark Rasch, a lawyer who specializes in computer security cases.
“Most people misinterpret the law and what they’re allowed to do with devices like these,” Goldstein told HuffPost Weird News. “Plus, you can get yourself killed. People think they’re legally allowed to spy on their spouses and it’s probably not true, depending on how it’s done.”
A former attorney who has worked his share of divorce cases, Goldstein says he made sure to cover himself legally.
“We are very cautious about how we market our products,” he said. “We’re like a liquor retailer in that we want our products to be used responsibly.”
Walton says a perfect example of his company’s legal cover comes with the devices that allow customers to track a cell phone.
“There is a license agreement from the manufacturer that says the customer specifically can’t install it on someone else’s phone without their knowledge,” he said.
Although the spy shop is an offshoot of a show that catches “cheaters,” the show’s host, Joey Greco, is surprised at who is going to the spy shop.
“One of my friends has a kid at a particular school and there are questions about what goes on in the classroom,” Greco told HuffPost Weird News. “She is thinking about putting one of the hidden cameras in the school room.”
Walton says that the two groups who seem to be buying the products the most are women worried their man is cheating, and parents who want to make sure their kids aren’t sexting or getting inappropriate photos themselves.
However, he admits the holiday season isn’t the biggest time of year at his shop.
“Christmas is the worst time of year for the spy goods industry in general,” Walton said. “People are buying electronics for other members of their family. Plus, these products are situational — you only buy them when you need them.”
“The biggest month is actually Valentine’s Day,” he said. “I’m not really sure why.”
Goldstein sees the Cheaters Spy Shop as a sound business venture and a way to help the show’s fans who aren’t able to get on the show.
“We only do 44 cases a season, but we get close to 300,000 calls a year for people who want help with their domestic relationships,” he said. “These products produce a better mousetrap.”
But a mousetrap is only as good as the person who sets the trap and some people, such as Angela Daffron, who runs Jodi’s Voice, an anti-stalking advocacy group, worry that the technology sold at the Cheaters Spy Shop can be used by stalkers as well as spurned lovers.
“I was personally affected by the use of a program called FlexiSpy which was placed on my cell phone to monitor GPS and all communications on or around the phone,” she told HuffPost Weird News by email. “The product is marketed as an option to monitor your child or catch a cheating spouse, but was used against me by a stalker.”
“Whether you believe infidelity is happening or not, there is still a level of privacy necessary in a marriage. Personally, I think, if you feel the need to purchase a product like this, either the marriage is too far gone already or you need therapy, but not spy supplies. Relationships are built on trust. Spying does not imply much trust.”
Daffron won’t go as far to call some of these activities true stalking, but she believes there is a fine line between hacking into emails or Facebook and stalking.
“I feel that products like these normalize behaviors similar to stalking in our society,” she said.
Meanwhile, Kevin D. Murray, who does eavesdropping audits and counterespionage consulting, says that the idea of doing your own investigation of a suspected cheat may sound appealing, but often causes more problems than it’s worth.
“Private electronic eavesdropping and stalking is illegal on both a federal and state level,” he told HuffPost Weird News. “Conducting electronic surveillance oneself can create far more problems than it solves. A person with a legitimate concern should hire a licensed private investigator to collect the facts. Do-it-yourselfers lack the experience and emotional detachment to conduct successful investigations.”
Murray also thinks that, even if the Cheaters Spy Shop offers its share of disclaimers on the use of the product, they could still be risking legal problems.
“Any person who assists another with illegal electronic surveillance is equally guilty,” said Murray, author of the e-book, Is My Cell Phone Bugged?. “For example, a guy might ask the guy at Radio Shack, ‘How can I secretly record my wife?’ and that guy might say, ‘Just buy this voice-activated recorder and hide it under the dashboard of her car.'”
“When it hits the fan, guess who the lawyers come looking for? Big-pockets Radio Shack,” he said. “There have also been similar cases where private investigators just dispense advice like this. They get prosecuted, and the spouse who actually did the bugging gets off due to ‘matrimonial immunity.'”
Murray says modern electronic surveillance has been regulated by law since 1968, but due to benign neglect and more pressing crimes, enforcement is rare. However, he said that on a few occasions, when the marketplace has become a little too hot, there is enforcement.
“From what I see, the pot is about to boil over again. Look for laws about spyware on cell phones, and raids on ‘spy shops’ in 2012,” he warned.
But while he thinks the Cheaters Spy Shop could be putting itself at risk, Murray doesn’t seem that concerned. At the end of the interview, he hinted he may contact the shop about carrying his book.
“It’s a yin-yang thing,” he explained.
Regardless of what happens with the Spy Shop, Greco believes the situations that inspired the show “Cheaters,” and, by extension, the Spy Shop, aren’t going away.
“”What makes the show popular is that either you’ve cheated, had it done to you or you know someone who has,” Greco said. “The individuals on the show reflect just a party of the population, but when I think of a couple that has gone through this, but is making things work, that makes me happy.”