Italian adulterers being revealed by their cell phones

Monday, September 29, 2003

ROME -- Italy's love affair with text messaging is having an unexpected consequence: Cell phones have become a leading giveaway of secret affairs.

Snooping spouses are finding amorous messages, as well as inexplicable phone numbers, stored in the memory of mobile phones.

Divorce lawyers are ecstatic, magazines are warning readers to watch out, and one private investigator has even issued "Five Golden Rules" on how to cheat with a cell phone and not get caught.

Antonella, a 19-year-old art student who declined to give her last name, recounted an ugly experience involving a boyfriend and a mobile.

"We were looking at the cell phone together because he was expecting a message from a relative," she said. "Instead, it was from a girl saying she'd had a lovely time with him last night and sending him lots of kisses."

Their breakup came soon after.

Private eye Miriam Tomponzi says a study by her firm found cell phones were involved in nearly nine of every 10 discovered affairs in Italy. As an antidote, her agency has offered up its five rules to avoid discovery.

One trick is to immediately delete call records from a phone's memory, as well as text messages -- "even the most beautiful," the agency advises wistfully. Another tip, for when a paramour's call comes and a spouse is present, is to fake a normal work conversation.

"Practice this by yourself in a closed room in front of a mirror and in a loud voice," the agency exhorts.

Text messaging love notes

Tomponzi explained why text messaging appeals to the unfaithful.

"Say I'm talking to you, I can write a text message to my lover without you realizing," she said. "I send it calmly, it's done. But a phone call I couldn't do, right? 'Amore, I love you, I want you' -- written I can do it, verbally I can't. This is the convenience of the short messages."

Divorce lawyer Cesare Rimini said text messages have replaced love letters.

"Secret affairs are discovered by what? Through communication," he said. "Communication at one time was letters -- I've joked that it was once even Morse code. Today, the methods of communication are these."

That mobiles should intersect with love in Italy is not surprising.

Rarely does a crowd of Italians gather without at least one punching out a text message on a cell phone. The telltale beep of an incoming message will send them fumbling excitedly for their phones. It is like passing notes in school, only on a national level.

Cell phone use is high in much of Europe, and Italy has one of the highest levels of all. In a nation of 58 million people, there are 53 million mobile subscriptions -- a market penetration of 92.4 percent, says the industry review Mobile Communications.

The figures don't mean 53 million Italians have cell phones. Some people have more than one account.

Some customers use one mobile phone account for work calls and another for family and friends. In some cases, however, the reason may be less innocent.

Mobile operator Vodafone Omnitel has made life easier for those wanting multiple numbers. Its Alter Ego service gives subscribers two separate numbers on the same microchip.

Asked about the cheating possibilities this offers, Vodafone spokeswoman Silvia de Blasio said that wasn't the intent.

"Services that you have on your mobile phone help your mobility, and allow you to have a more easy life -- more easy, but not necessarily to betray your wife or husband," she said.

"Maybe it's also useful for that; I don't know. In their private life, our clients do what they want."

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