You don’t have to be a romantic or a character in a Jane Austen novel to swoon at the idea of falling in love. Love is a part of human existence. It’s truly extraordinary, and, as such, many people can relate to what it’s like to search for — like really hunt for — love.
But the problem with love, the glaring problem with it to be exact, is just how blinding it can be. One minute you’re on a first date at a five-star hotel with a man who calls himself the “prince of diamonds” and before you know it, you’re taking out loans because your boyfriend of one month, the prince of diamonds, is being shaken down by his enemies.
Who are these enemies? You don’t ask. You just want your boyfriend safe. How can you do that? Well, you can immediately wire him thousands of dollars. But don’t worry, he promises that he’s wealthier beyond your wildest imagination, so he’ll pay you back — and his Tinder photos are proof of that wealth.
If that scenario sounds like a plot to some action-packed drama film starring Timothée Chalamet, then you’re not too far off.
Except in this scenario, it’s not a movie. It’s the insane, almost unbelievable tale of The Tinder Swindler, Netflix’s true-crime documentary (emphasis on true) about con artist Shimon Hayut, who was born and raised in a small city just outside of Tel Aviv, Israel.
What happened on The Tinder Swindler?
The documentary follows Hayut, essentially a nobody who turned himself into one hell of a somebody through lies, manipulation, threats, and, of course, Tinder. On Tinder, his name is Simon Leviev, son of Lev Leviev, a very real, well-known Israeli businessman known as the “King of Diamonds.” One quick Google search will show you that Lev Leviev is worth a cool $1.5 billion dollars. It will also show you that he doesn’t have a son named Simon…or Shimon.
The Tinder Swindler follows not just Hayut, but also three women he scammed out of considerable amounts of money.
The documentary starts with Cecilie Fjellhøy who, while living in London, met Hayut on Tinder. In their initial exchange, he said he was leaving the next day for Sofia, Bulgaria, but wanted to meet up for coffee that night. Not more than a few hours later, Fjellhøy was on her way to Bulgaria with Hayut on (what appeared to be) his private jet. Like anyone would be, she was in awe of his lifestyle, his kindness, the attention he paid her, and the immediate bond she felt with him — that type of connection where it’s like you’ve known someone your whole life.
Fjellhøy is essentially “love-bombed,” (a term that describes when someone showers another person with love, affection, gifts, etc. as means of building trust and later manipulating them) and falls head over heels for Hayut — who is conveniently not around much, because of his supposedly dangerous job working in the diamond industry. That non-committal attitude eventually turns into full dismissal by Hayut, but not before Fjellhøy found herself US$250,000 (approx. S$337,000) in debt because of money he “borrowed.” It was only when her credit card company came to her home to listen to her story that she found out the truth; the reps recognised Hayut and told her that he does this — con — for a living.
In other words, Hayut (or Leviev, or one of the other many names he’s used) is everyone’s worst nightmare when it comes to dating. The documentary estimates that he’s managed to swindle about US$10 million dollars (approx. S$13.5 million) from women all over the world and has spent minimal time in jail (he’s currently free) for defrauding some of the women who came forward but were not in the documentary.
But the scariest part? He’s back on Tinder (at least, according to the credits at the end of the documentary).
While Hayut is probably not the first person to use Tinder to con people, he is definitely, at least at the moment, the most famous. As much as his behaviour is cruel and abhorrent, it’s also somehow impressive that he could get that many people to fall for his lies. Especially since the lies are so off the charts, in a dimension far from reality. The son of a billionaire has to get rid of his credit cards because his enemies are tracking him, so he needs his girlfriend to take out credit cards in her name? His bank account is frozen, so his partner needs to take out a US$40,000 (approx. S$54,000) loan and wire him funds? Where’s daddy in all this — he can’t hit up his billionaire father for money? The documentary is both infuriating and anxiety-inducing, to say the least.
It might seem altogether unbelievable, but not just one woman fell for this — several did. And though you might think you’d be “too smart” to find yourself in the same situation, the reality is, love is a slippery and, again, blinding thing. So, what were the red flags that should have had every person swiping left from the start or ditching him once things became suspect? Ahead, experts weigh in.
Yes, it can happen to anyone
Although it’s easy to watch The Tinder Swindler and scoff, saying you’d never fall for such a thing, you might be giving yourself a little too much credit. Anyone, in the right situation, can be taken advantage of by others. If you prescribe to the Disney model of love — that perfect romance followed by happily ever after — something that Fjellhøy references at the beginning of the documentary, you end up seeing things as you want to see them as opposed to how they are in reality.
“When you’re using a dating app, you’re automatically putting yourself in a vulnerable position,” says Amber Lee, relationship expert, matchmaker, and CEO of Select Date Society, a professional matchmaking service. And it’s the perfect place for romance scammers to prey on innocent people. “They’re looking for [people] who believe that the right person is out there and who are hoping to find their prince charming.”
A fairytale first date can certainly be blinding as well. Especially if that date involves oh, I don’t know, being whisked off to another country in a private jet with endless bottles of champagne. Con artists are called that for a reason: They’ve perfected the art of the con, of seducing people with things that are just believable enough, yet also too good to be true.
And, reminder, no matter how well any first date goes, you barely know someone at that stage. “If you met [the person] online, you’re going out with a complete stranger,” says Emyli Lovz, co-founder of emlovz, a dating coach and matchmaking service. “Ask yourself why this stranger wants to spend hundreds of dollars on a first date with you — a smart, charming, dashing woman no doubt — but still a stranger.”
For some people, it may be impossible to see it in any capacity other than romantic, especially if you’re in the mindset to find love.
5 biggest red flags to look out for
No matter how you meet potential dates, you run the risk of crossing paths with someone who’s not on the up and up. But one of the good things about these scammers is they’re very typical in their behaviour, from their profiles to how they act once you meet them IRL.
These are some red flags that might spell danger, as demonstrated by The Tinder Swindler, so you can spot them and then promptly peace out.
They make excessive claims
Even before you swipe right, there are red flags that you shouldn’t ignore. Con artists are narcissists who believe their own lies. They’re so immersed in their delusions that when they put together a profile on a dating app, those delusions are right there staring you in the face.
“First of all, never go out with anyone who writes ‘prince of diamonds’ on their Tinder profile,” says Lovz. “Billionaire heirs don’t use Tinder. If they use apps at all, they’re on Raya and The League [both membership-based dating apps that require application and admission to join]. People that are hyperbolically flashy on dating apps will never live up to the flash in real life. These people are most likely superficial, callow, and despite the ostensible opulent lifestyle will more often than not refuse to even pay for the first date.”
Multiple photos of them leaning up against Ferraris in a variety of colours? Next, please.
It seems too good to be true
Although this should go without saying, it needs to be stated again: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. This isn’t an old wives tale, a cliché, or a proverb. It’s a fact.
“When someone seems perfect, there is likely something they are hiding,” says Lee. “You can absolutely meet a handsome, charming, single person whom you may eventually fall in love with, but if you don’t see any flaws and they profess their love for you right away, you should run the other way. Romance scammers will love-bomb you at the beginning of the relationship to make you feel special and to create the illusion that you have a real connection.” And this is exactly what The Tinder Swindler did, taking women on lavish trips and making over-the-top romantic gestures.
Yes, this all sounds so perfect and wonderful. But leave the “sweeping off your feet” and love bombing to romance movies.
Things move very quickly
When someone wants something from you and that something is sinister, they need to move fast to gain your trust so they can get what they want, then get out. Not only is there love-bombing, fantastical over-the-top dates that induce that feeling of walking on air, but they are also moving the relationship from zero to 60 in record time. It’s called an emotional con, as one of the journalists points out in the documentary.
In Fjellhøy case, after only a month, Hayut had her looking for apartments in London (with a USD 15,000 or MYR 62,872/month budget, mind you) so they could move in together and start a family as soon as possible. At the same time, his other girlfriend, Ayleen Charlotte (who would ultimately help Interpol catch him) was looking for places for them to live together in Amsterdam. Of course, he had no plans of bringing either of these situations to fruition. It was a matter of keeping the women interested until their money ran out and he could move on to his next victims.
They ask a lot of questions
While it’s normal to ask questions when you’re getting to know someone, when the questions start feeling like they’re probing, it should raise a red flag.
“This can be a tricky one to identify because there’s a normal give and take when starting a new relationship,” says Ruby Payne, relationship and sex expert at UberKinky, a BDSM and sex toy company. “But if there’s an inordinate amount of questions coming your way, put your guard up. Repeated questions about your past relationships could show that the scammer is trying to build their persona into one that’s appealing to you. Or they could be fishing for answers to common security questions. For example, your mother’s name, first pet, first car, where you grew up, [and so on].”
Is anyone really that curious about your mother’s maiden name? The answer is no.
They avoid meeting in person
Although Hayut was down to meet up with the women he swindled right away, some scammers put off having that first IRL date.
“Some conversations will seem genuine and carry on as such, but you’ll meet a blocker when you try to bring things into real life,” says Payne. “They’ll dodge the question or give incredibly vague answers as to why they can’t. While this one may not necessarily be a scam, it might be a sign that you’re not speaking to a real person.”
The problem here is, even if you don’t meet them in real life, you still run the risk of falling for what they say and maybe even falling in love with them. It’s a textbook case of catfishing and can be detrimental when they finally get bored with the game they’ve started and just disappear.
How to get out of a con situation
Although the three women in the documentary — Fjellhøy, Charlotte, and Pernilla Sjöholm — are still paying off their massive debts, it’s important to realise that this is an extreme case. While your chances of meeting someone like The Tinder Swindler are slim, you still never really know who’s on the other side of that profile you just matched with and what their intentions might be.
Googling someone before you meet them doesn’t make you paranoid; it makes you cautious. Trusting your gut doesn’t mean you’re afraid; it means you’re protecting yourself. If someone says something wildly unbelievable, then it’s best not to believe them. If things are feeling shady, even if you can’t put your finger on it, stop seeing them. Let your instincts, instead of your heart, guide you — especially if someone asks you to take out multiple loans for them!
As much as The Tinder Swindler will have viewers screaming at their television, it does end on a promising note. When Fjellhøy is asked if she’s still on Tinder, she confirms she is, saying, “I’m still looking for love. Always.” Hayut may have broken her heart and put her in debt, but he didn’t break her spirit or crush her belief that love is out there waiting for her. That, right there, will make all your screaming at the documentary worth it.
This story first appeared on www.shape.com.
(Main and Feature Image Credit: Netflix)
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