In the age of dating apps, there are plenty of concerns regarding the safety of meeting someone online. There are, of course, both love stories and horror stories told by people who have used the dating app Tinder. “The Tinder Swindler” offers details regarding one of the more disturbing accounts, exposing Shimon Hayut, aka Simon Leviev, as a master con-artist who swindled up to $10 million from women he gained the trust of through Tinder.
The documentary features three women — Cecilie Fjellhoy, Pernilla Sjöholm and Ayleen Charlotte — as they recall their experiences with “Simon.” All three women believed themselves to be in love with him after he earned their trust through extravagant dates. What they didn’t know, however, was that Simon was using money from his other girlfriends to impress each of them. By pretending to be in danger and on the run from his enemies — a detailed and well-thought-out story he told each woman — Simon would ask for each of his dates’ credit cards so that no one could track him. He lived a luxurious lifestyle, even forcing these women to take out loans for tens of thousands of dollars with no plans of ever returning the money.
“The Tinder Swindler” offers a glimpse into the dangers of the digital realm, where the line between what’s real and what isn’t is sometimes too thin. As a deeper look into what’s possible online when technology meant for good falls into the wrong hands, “The Tinder Swindler” becomes a very interesting documentary. While for many people Tinder is a way to meet new people and build relationships, the app functions as the perfect platform for deception when placed in the hands of a con artist. Simon Leviev’s profile looked legitimate, and that’s what is so frightening.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that some of Simon’s requests seemed suspect, like when he asked the women on a first date in another country or when he begged them to take out more loans. However, I had to remind myself that what makes a con artist a con artist is the ability to successfully gain the love and trust of their victims. This was Simon Leviev’s full-time job; he put in the effort necessary to establish what these women believed was a sturdy foundation to a long-lasting relationship.
“The Tinder Swindler” is also fascinating on a psychological level. When these women found out that Simon had stolen their money, their reactions were not what I expected. Instead of being upset and angry that they were conned, some of these women questioned why Simon, who they still loved, would ever do that to them. As a viewer, it’s easy to see, even obvious, that Simon was never the person he said he was, making it even easier to victim blame. But these women truly believed that the persona Simon created was real.
A few days after I watched the documentary, Twitter started blowing up with Tinder Swindler memes. It’s expected that viewers would make a joke out of the naivety of the women swindled; however, others seem to be defending them. What interests me most is the air of nonchalance over the fact that Shimon Hayut is living a free life after only five months in jail while these women remain in debt — people just don’t seem to care.
“The Tinder Swindler” is more than a factual retelling of Shimon Hayut’s career as a con artist. The documentary is engaging on multiple levels, calling into question the psychology of deception as well as the urge many of us have to victim blame. The three women featured in the documentary are brave to tell their stories, especially after acknowledging the upsetting fact that many viewers will jump to conclusions, calling them gold diggers and questioning their intelligence. Still, their accounts serve as a warning to many that technology has the power to mask the truth in vicious ways, whether on dating apps or not.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at email@example.com.