“One little swipe can change your life forever.” Those words are spoken by a woman who has lots of experience using the dating app Tinder. And there are many who would agree, expressing support for the hopefulness about love and adventure that is the engine driving the app.
At the same time, many might say, “Be careful.” After all, people have been conned, or worse, using dating apps. What we might all agree upon is an assertion that we are all intrigued by conmen and women, and how they get away with it.
The Tinder Swindler (streams Netflix) is a way-better-than-average true crime story about a con game. It is tighter and more focused than many true crime documentaries on Netflix, a crisply done account of how a guy manipulated and exploited three women on Tinder. There are probably many more, but here the focus is on three and how one of them took a little revenge.
The program is the perfect follow-up to Inventing Anna, which many have just binged. Invention is the mother of necessity, as the saying goes, but you could also say that invention is the father of fraud.
We meet three women – Cecilie Fjellhoy, Pernilla Sjoholm and Ayleen Charlotte – who were conned by the pretend playboy Simon Leviev, who presented himself online as the heir to an Israeli diamond fortune. He used this entirely fake persona to woo women on Tinder and, after winning their trust and impressing them, he tricked them into lending him hundreds of thousands of dollars. That money was then used to impress and manipulate his next victim.
Cecilie is candid about her minor addiction to Tinder. “We are all looking for a diamond in the rough,” she says ruefully. In her early 30s, Norwegian but living and working in England, she became the perfect victim. A little lost in London, a little lonely but adventurous, she googled this Simon character and found plenty of images of him living the high life while working for his family’s diamond firm.
What Cecilie does admit, and the doc dramatizes with aplomb, is her infatuation with romance stories. “I had memorized the entire movie of Beauty and the Beast,” she says. Also, tellingly, she adds, “What happened to me felt like a movie, but in the movies there are always bad guys.” Any doubts she had were erased as Simon “love bombed” her, with his private jet, fancy cars and hotels, and paying a great deal of attention to her.
Pernilla seems more worldly and says she occasionally used Tinder, but not to find a man to take care of her. Independent and successful, she was looking for a man she could hang out with, chat with and she hoped to find a sophisticated cosmopolitan type.
Simon was that, by all accounts. Things that seemed ordinary in a rich man’s wooing of a woman did not seem sinister at all. For instance, he flew her from Stockholm to Amsterdam for lunch and an evening out, and that meant he needed her passport details. Eventually, of course, the plausibility of Simon’s playboy lifestyle came into question, as he needed money because of a complicated matter in another country.
It is Ayleen who figures out she’s been exploited and has an idea for regaining some of the money she’s lost, and her dignity. It isn’t quite the delicious revenge, you might be expecting, but what happens to Simon, real name Shimon Hayut, is itself mind-boggling. Indeed, after this documentary first streamed, there was considerable outrage about what he had gotten away with, and what little punishment was meted out.
As for the three women, they faced some scorn. You see the program is based on an in-depth investigation by the Norwegian paper Verdens Gang (generally known as VG) and when the sensational report was published, the women were attacked on social media. The publication of the story caused a sensation in Scandinavia, much like the New York magazine story about the antics of the alleged Anna Delvey did in the United States.
The Tinder Swindler, at under two hours, is formidably compelling and has the advantage of access to e-mails, texts and phone messages that “Simon” sent to the three women. There’s no nifty ending, even though Ayleen attempts that. The doc is alive with questions and queries about living your life online, the charisma of true conmen and how they get away with it.
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