Lies, lies, all lies

Independent on Sunday, Review section, 28 August 2005

If you’re serious about cheating, you might need an alibi that’s more substantial than ‘Darling, I’m away on business.’  Alex Wade enters the murky world of

Having an affair has just got easier.  Welcome to - the ‘white lie’ service.  Billing itself as ‘the world’s only legitimate alibi service,’ claims to have up to 12,000 satisfied customers, who use its operatives to provide cover for their extra-marital meanderings. 

“We provide white lies for a variety of reasons, but easily the most common is because someone is having an affair,” says Rob Goulding, fakealibi’s marketing spokesman.  “A recent case involved an Asian woman who had been forced into an arranged marriage in London.  She wanted to see her ex-boyfriend in France.  She contacted us, and we arranged her alibi.”  The alibi in question was impressively orchestrated.  “We set things up so that the client would tell her husband she was going to Belgium for a couple of days with a friend.  We faxed a hotel booking confirmation from Belgium that included a number of the fictional hotel that the husband could ring.  This was a pay-as-you-go mobile number obtained by a French agent, who nipped across the border to purchase the sim card in Belgium.  As it turned out the husband didn’t ring, but the back-up was there just in case.”

The provision of alibis such as this does not come free.  “That one would have cost around £350,” says Goulding.  “We charge either on a per-job basis, or, for some clients, agree a monthly retainer.”  He adds that while originally membership of fakealibi cost £29.99, now joining is free:  “We are very competitive and affordable.  That’s why we get a lot of work in.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, fakealibi hails from the United States.  It began as a telephone service some three years ago, before the owners – who do not wish to disclose their identities (“for obvious reasons,” according to Goulding) – decided to chance their arm in the UK.  “The website was set up in autumn 2004, and now our permanent staff are based in the UK,” says Goulding.  There are four full-time staff members, who have four part-time colleagues.  In addition, there are a large number of what Goulding calls ‘home-workers’ – agents in a variety of European territories who are paid arrangement fees, as and when necessary. 

Goulding says that although fakealibi has a worldwide client base, the majority of its custom comes from the UK.  “I’d say 60% of our work is generated by UK members,” he says, adding that weekends are busiest – “it’s usually quiet during the week.”  If an alibi founders, and a client’s cover is blown, a full investigation will be conducted and the client will be provided with an explanation of what went wrong.  In these dire circumstances, Goulding anticipates that a full refund would be given, but hastens to add that “we have never had an alibi go wrong.”

Those so inclined can sign up and pay for alibis to be created by a dedicated account manager.  Intriguingly, the website proclaims that members can ‘view the status of an alibi’ (this turns out to be a means of tracking the progress of one’s order).  A range of devices will be deployed in the creation of alibis, including mock-ups of invitations to conferences, the provision of bogus accommodation addresses and the making of telephone calls to a client’s partner to confirm a fictional meeting.  And, as the website puts it, ‘We can make purchases on your behalf so that items cannot be traced back to yourself via receipts.’ 

One satisfied customer is Alex, from Nottingham.  “I have used the fake alibi service for about three months,” says the 37-year old managing director.  “I pay them £150 per month retainer and that gives me unlimited access to their products.  I use them normally once every week.  I sometimes have messages left for my partner detailing the fake conference I am attending or other business trips.”  Alex has so few qualms about the service that he is not far from being evangelical.  “I think the service is great - my account manager is available 24 hours a day in case something goes wrong and I need urgent help.  I will continue to use the service, and my other partner uses it, too.”

A mild note of caution was sounded by another fakealibi enthusiast, 29-year old recruitment consultant Deborah.  She says she was told about the service by the person with whom she is having an affair.  “Both of us are in relationships – I met my secret partner at a Christmas party last year.  We’ve been having an affair for nearly nine months.  I feel awful sometimes but you can’t hide or deny feelings.  It’s worth paying money to feel confident that we won’t be found out.  I know some people will criticise fakealibi, but they do help and sometimes it’s nice talking to someone from fakealibi about my affair.” 

Most clients do not, though, take up the service’s offer of either ‘live chat with other clients’ or ‘live chat, if required, with your account manager.’  The vast majority of business is conducted online, allowing clients to preserve a feeling of anonymity.  As Goulding – accurately, one suspects – puts it:  “Many people have a guilty conscience and the last thing they want to do is talk about their affairs on the phone.”

What, though, of the moral – not to mention legal - issues?  Can a service that brazenly aids and abets infidelity be a good thing?  And is the creation of fraudulent hotel reservations or the making of bogus ‘yes, your husband has arrived safely, he is still in a meeting’ phone calls legally permissible?

Goulding says that fakealibi has taken legal advice on its operations, and is confident that nothing it does infringes the law.  “We have a solicitor who advises us and if we have a job that we feel is a bit too edgy, we consult him,” he says.  He is adamant, too, that the police would be alerted if a client asked for anything suspicious or if, for example, a client was connected with a crime.  Indeed, he goes so far as to cite a recent occasion when fakealibi were praised by the German authorities:  “We were suspicious about a client who wanted us to provide a large number of fake visas for immigrants in Germany.  Naturally we would not do this, and we went straight to the police.  We would always seek to co-operate with the authorities in this way.” 

On the moral issues, Goulding is similarly upbeat.  “The people who come to us are already having affairs,” he says.  “We didn’t ask them to have affairs - it’s not us who have caused the affair in the first place.  In some cases we are helping to save marriages.  People having affairs are often not doing so because they want to destroy everything but because of any number of other reasons.  For example, they might be frustrated because of the long-term illness of their spouse, or lonely because their partner is always away.  They want to preserve their marriages and there might well be children involved.  People could get hurt if everything came out, and by helping to conceal the affair or fling we are actually assisting the stability of family life.” 

This ingenious piece of spin has its detractors.  One such is Nigel Winter, who, as a matrimonial lawyer with Rawlison Butler, is used to seeing the fallout of what starts with a kiss and ends with a catastrophe.  “Fakealibi’s website has an informal tone,” says Winter, “but it disguises the seriousness of its users’ actions, whether in their personal life or in the context of legal proceedings.”  Winter’s concern is that fakeabili could unwittingly provide the cover for, say, an armed robber, who obtains a bogus hotel reservation as his alibi.  “Such use could entail any number of legal penalties for both the user and the website,” says Winter. 

Which is one thing that can’t be said of monogamy.