Private eyes spy a rising market in the gold-digging male: Successful women are asking detectives to check on their boyfriends'

CAREER women have been identified by private investigation agencies as a lucrative new market.

Private detectives have long been used by wives for matrimonial investigations. But female high-flyers are now turning to agencies before marriage for checks on their boyfriends' bank balance, assets and sexual history.

The market for unmasking fortune hunters is becoming so profitable that Hodge Investigation Services of Cardiff now offers women pre-marital status reports starting at pounds 70. Most are requested by clients working as personal assistants or in finance or business. Up to four inquire a week.

Marika, an elegant 32-year-old Italian interpreter, asked for a report after meeting a man at a business convention. The 45-year-old managing director had wined and dined her in Cardiff three times a week. He had showed her pictures of his luxurious London flat. He had squired her in his BMW and bought her lingerie.

She became suspicious because he always paid for the meals and presents in cash, avoided giving her his telephone number and never invited her home. When he proposed marriage she asked Hodge Investigation Services to confirm his story. Checks at Companies House revealed that he had no connection with the limited company he purported to run. Others showed he did not own a flat - he had shown Marika estate agents' particulars. He was an undischarged bankrupt, which was why he always paid in cash, and a chauffeur, hence his expensive car.

The demand for such checks reflects the growing status of working women, according to Caroline Hodge, who runs the agency. 'More and more are putting their emotional life on hold while they establish themselves in their profession. By the time they're looking for marriage they're in their thirties with perhaps pounds 20,000 equity on their flat, savings, or inherited wealth.'

Mrs Hodge's investigations have turned up former wives, secret children and other girlfriends. The worst involved telling a middle- aged woman that her fiance had been having a relationship with another man since late childhood.

David Roberts, who works for British Detection in Preston, is also doing an increasing number of pre- marital status reports. 'They're for middle-aged women in the Northwest with grown-up children and mundane jobs, living in their own house,' he said. 'They're worried that their boyfriend will move in and they'll never get rid of him. They'll say he never uses credit cards and drives a rented car. But by the time they approach me they're usually on the way to the truth.'

Career women are most often targeted at clubs, particularly in London, according to Peter Heims of the Association of British Investigators. 'People do this virtually as a career. They meet somebody with money who clubs, they're charming, they pick their victim and make sure they meet them accidentally. Then it goes from there.'

Women may be taking the initiative in unmasking gold-diggers. But they do not always leave them when the truth comes out. 'When we find something bad the women won't take any advice at all. They just carry on,' Mr Heims said.

'One of my clients had a lot of money and was being courted by a chappie who said he was a colonel. We found out he lived off women and spent all their money by setting up in business. He'd done it to three already. When we got the report we told her to drop him like hot cakes. She gave it to him] He came to the office threatening to punch me through the wall. I told him: 'You know it's true, and I know it's true. So eff off.' He took her money, of course.'

(Photograph omitted)

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