Instant affairs

Like a predator cruising at a bar, he scans the profile pictures of various women and chats them up with a "Hi, how are you?" Small talk quickly leads to more intimate topics like sex. Within a week, he's arranged a date to meet for sex.

Anonymous, discreet and quick. That's what some Singaporean men seem to be engaged in thanks to Wechat, an increasingly popular messaging app.

It has even attracted serial womanisers like George*, 39, who claims he's used it to hook up with over 20 women over six months. The app, which has "friend-finding" functions similar to apps like Blendr and Skout, allows him to approach any woman who shows up on his screen. He meets up with women over Wechat about twice a week.

Never mind that George, who works in the engineering line, is a married father of two young girls. Throughout our interview, he is shockingly cavalier about cheating on his wife of nine years.

"I start with small talk before paying a woman compliments to make her feel special. I lead into the topic of sex by asking about her sex life and from there, the texts become more flirtatious and sexual - often, we'd end up sending raunchy photos or videos to each other.

He boasts about how it takes him just around a week to score with a girl. The longest he's waited? Five weeks. "She was totally worth it -she was hot, excellent in bed and a good conversationalist. I won't waste my time meeting a girl if it doesn't lead to a happy ending," he adds nonchalantly.

And as long as there's Wechat, he's not worried that his wife will find out. With a few clicks, he can log out of the app when he gets home.

ADULTERY - JUST A SCAN AWAY

Singaporeans feel strongly about cheating, judging by the recent furore over Ashley Madison. There was a public outcry last year after it was announced that the affairs-advocate site might be launched here - it was later banned by the authorities.

Though it doesn't encourage affairs like Ashley Madison does, Wechat has become a platform for cheaters to easily find potential partners.

One of Wechat's most popular functions is Look Around, which allows users to "scan" their surroundings and link up with other people in a 1km radius.

Pick someone, type an opening line and immediately, you've got a brand new friend (with benefits or otherwise).

But unlike other "hook-up" apps like Blendr and Grindr, Wechat isn't marketed as such. What makes this app so innocuous is that it's really just a regular instant messaging app, no different from the dozens out there. So if a wife goes snooping through her partner's phone, she wouldn't suspect a thing. Also, Wechat promises anonymity. Users can choose to only reveal their usernames and not their phone numbers, thus promising a secret virtual relationship.

As Alfred Dodwell, lawyer at law firm Dodwell & Co., says: "If a man wants to cheat, he will find a way to do it. An app like Wechat just makes it much easier - a willing woman is practically in the palm of your hand."

It's this anonymity and ease that emboldens guys like George.

He claims he's been cheating on his partners since his teenage years. He used to pick up women from clubs weekly but, more often than not, left empty handed.

He says: "Picking up women at clubs requires more effort. I'd have to spend money on drinks and muster up the guts to chat them up. And getting rejected in person is more embarrassing than when someone simply stops replying to your messages. Girls are also wary about your motives in clubs - it's not easy to find the 'easy' ones."

George says that his success rate on Wechat is much higher as he can "always find willing parties". He claims he's slept with bankers, nurses, teachers and married housewives. Most of the time, the transaction is purely sexual. He says: "They all just want company and I'm there to provide it. I've met women who don't look like the pictures they send, but I'm not fussy."

Whenever George needs to meet up with other women, he lies to his wife, telling her he's doing overtime at work. He thinks that she suspects that he's being unfaithful, but doesn't know the full extent of it.

"We've had a few arguments about why I'm working overtime so frequently and whether or not I'm having an affair. I always deny it and she doesn't press me for more."

CHEATING HEARTS

Seven private investigators we spoke to say they're seeing more clients suspecting their husbands of having affairs with women they've met on Wechat.

"Nine months ago, we didn't have such cases, but now I get about two to four every month," says Patmanaban Soman, regional head of operations at private investigations firm Glen Iris International. Raymond Lim, operations manager of investigation firm Apac Investigation & Consultancy, cites eight cases alone between July and October last year.

Divorce lawyer Gloria James- Civetta says she recently handled her first divorce case involving a woman who had found her husband exchanging intimate texts with another woman he'd met on Wechat. "I foresee that the numbers will go up," she adds.

The app's notoriety is growing online too. On the Sammyboy forum (an Asian sex forum), the Wechat discussion thread that started last August garnered close to 6,000 replies and nearly two million views in three months. That's 10 times more than other sex-related threads.

Also, over the last eight months, we've noticed users on forums such as Flowerpod and Singaporemotherhood complaining that they found saucy Wechat text exchanges between their husbands and other women.

BROKEN MARRIAGES

Mary*, 35, a manager, had seen the Wechat app icon on her husband's phone but thought nothing of it - until her husband of more than 10 years began displaying suspicious behaviour. The mother of two noticed that James*, a businessman, was coming home from work late every day, sometimes stumbling home at 2am.

She snooped through his phone and was shocked to find intimate texts ("I love you" and "I miss you") between James and several women on Wechat.

Phillip Tan, managing partner of private investigations firm Commercial Investigations, handled Mary's case. He said: "She hired us to tail him and we found that he was checking into budget hotels with at least one of the women that he'd met from Wechat - we recognised her from the profile picture she used for the app.

"In the five days that we trailed him, he met up with a young woman on three occasions, and they checked into hotels. We took pictures of them holding hands, hugging and kissing. When we broke the news to Mary, she told us she planned to divorce James."

Raymond Lim of Apac Investigation & Consultancy recalls a similar case involving Jennifer*, 35, who runs a popular food stall with her husband of eight years, Tim*. The couple have a young son.

"Tim was so busy at work that he usually wouldn't touch his phone even if a call came in. But for a few weeks, Jennifer noticed that he would keep his phone in sight. He was also constantly getting text messages and he walked away to reply to them," says Raymond. Tim also began going out frequently at night to "meet friends" - something he rarely did.

When Jennifer checked his phone one day, she found intimate texts between him and several women. "The texts included invitations from prostitutes, which he had responded to. He also appeared to be courting other women with tender words. Once, he offered to take one of them to the doctor when she had a headache - Jennifer said he'd never shown her such concern," says Raymond.

When Raymond's investigators tailed Tim, they found him sneaking into budget hotels to meet two women over three days. They concluded he'd met them on Wechat - they matched one woman to her Wechat profile picture, and the other to meeting dates and places in the texts in Tim's phone. But, as far as Raymond knows, Jennifer has yet to confront her husband about the affairs.

NIPPED IN THE BUD

But not all Wechat flirtations end in broken marriages.

Cynthia*, 36, had noticed her husband John* getting text messages late at night and smiling to himself while reading them. He would also take the phone with him into the bathroom, something he never did before.

When she peeked at John's phone, she found several text exchanges with women on Wechat. However, they seemed innocent enough - casual things like "How are you?" and "What did you have for lunch?" - nothing sexual or intimate.

Still, the mother of two was suspicious, so she approached Lawrence Koh, director at SK Investigation Services, and hired his firm to track down these women. One of them turned out to be a prostitute. Lawrence says they never investigated if John had sex with these women or if the other women he'd been chatting with were also prostitutes.

"Cynthia confronted her husband and, though he was angry at first, he later apologised and deleted the app. They are now working on patching up their 12-year marriage," he explains.

But other wives - like George's - remain none the wiser about their husbands' Wechat dalliances.

Does George feel guilty about his womanising ways? Not at all. "I enjoy female company too much to stick with just my wife, even though she satisfies me sexually."

"Besides, in other ways, I still try to be a good father and a good husband." And that is his parting shot.

*Names have been changed.

SO, I SIGNED UP ON WECHAT…

"How easy is it to get hit on with this app? I put it to the test by creating an account with a fake username and profi le picture. My rules: One, I wouldn't approach anyone. Two, if I got approached, I'd only text - no phone calls and, of course, no meet-ups.

Within a minute of turning on the Look Around function, my phone beeps with nine chat invites (on one day, it went up to 20) - all from men. Over the next two weeks, I encounter all kinds of guys looking for just one thing - sex. Most of them are bold enough to cut to the chase. One guy calls me 'baby' and immediately propositions me to be his sexual partner, or what he calls his 'long-term girlfriend'. Another asks if I want to have some fun, boasting about his sexual prowess. Ugh! Then there's the persistent fellow who comes right out and asks if I want to have oral sex (after a cursory 'hello'), even offering to whisk me to a budget hotel for a quickie after work. How romantic.

Some of the guys who claim to be single eventually 'fess up after several text exchanges. While most claim to be new to Wechat, one boldly tells me he's used the app to hook up with other women before. When I press them about their unsuspecting wives, they appear nonchalant and quickly try to change the topic. That's my cue to end the conversation.

I end my Wechat experiment after two weeks. But I'm still getting a 'hi' or a 'How are you?' from some persistent men. Guys, I haven't responded for weeks - take a hint?" - Ruby Tan

The deal with Wechat

Also known as Weixin in China, it was launched in 2011 and rebranded as Wechat in April 2012 for the international market - it now has 300 million users all over the world. In July last year, this free app was the most downloaded messaging app worldwide in the iTunes store.

Celebrities like Taiwanese singers Rainie Yang and Show Luo, and Argentinian football star Lionel Messi are ambassadors for the app, appearing in TV ad campaigns.

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