‘The Tinder Swindler’ is a new Netflix documentary that has taken the internet by storm over the past week, leaving people across the world baffled about how someone could get away with defrauding multiple women to such an extent.
The Netflix documentary debuted on the streaming service on February 2 and quickly rose to the top 10 most-watched movies of the week on the streaming service in several countries.
Who is the Tinder Swindler?
The so-called Tinder Swindler is a man who posed as the son of a wealthy diamond tycoon Lev Leviev and went by the name of Simon Leviev. Originally named Shimon Hayut, the fraudster was born in Israel and had been actively scamming women all over the world into giving him money, most of which they took out as bank loans.
How did he scam women?
Resorting to psychological tactics to lure women, he set up a profile on the world-famous dating app Tinder, where he verified his identity by including the handle to his official Instagram account and pictures of himself traveling in private jets, flying planes, enjoying the most expensive and lavish restaurants and hotels all over the world.
Leviev also created the website LLP Diamonds, making the company look legitimate, so that anyone who Googled him would see the link to the website and assume that he really was the son of a multi-millionaire.
Leviev followed a pattern. He would scam several women into lending him large sums of money, which he then spent on other women and never paid them back.
In a well thought out scheme that several women fell victim to, he would form an emotional connection with the women he matched with on Tinder, date them and pursue a relationship with them, which often took a couple of months, before asking them to lend him money because his “enemies” were after him.
To make them believe he was in danger, he would send them a picture of his so-called bodyguard Peter, bleeding with stitches on his forehead followed by a video of himself wearing a blood-stained t-shirt, sitting in an ambulance with Peter who was being tended to by a nurse. He used the same photo and videos to trick several women.
These women believed he was rich because he would take them on dates, giving them a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle that he supposedly leads, and that he was in danger due to the evidence he would send them.
A girl who came forward to talk about her experience with Leviev in the Netflix documentary, Cecilie Fjellhøy, said that he took her out for coffee at the Four Seasons Hotel in London and almost immediately asked her to join him on a business trip on board a private jet to Sofia, Bulgaria.
They kept in touch for weeks after the trip and connected with one another emotionally, until he suddenly claimed to be followed by “his enemies,” making Fjellhøy believe that he was in grave danger. Fast forward several weeks, she lent him almost $250,000 in loans and credit card payments – money that he never paid back.
He had scammed various women using the same tactic, by developing an emotional connection with them and then asking them to establish lines of credit and loans in their names to ensure that he does not get caught and to carry on living an ultra-luxurious life without the responsibility to pay it back to the banks which the money was borrowed from.
How did he get caught?
Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang, generally referred to as VG, ran the story in collaboration with Cecilie and another victim, Pernilla Sjoholm. VG’s investigation into Leviev that eventually ousted him was filmed as part of the Netflix documentary.
A history of fraud, forgery and theft
Online news media The Times of Israel estimates that Leviev is believed to have stolen around $10 million over the years from scamming numerous women across Europe in a Ponzi scheme.
Leviev was sentenced to two years in prison for fraud in Finland in 2015. In 2019, he was also sentenced to 15 months in prison in Israel and is wanted in several countries for fraud.
When he was arrested in Finland in 2015, authorities found two forged Israeli passports, three forged Israeli driver’s licenses, two forged Israeli flight permits and five forged American Express credit cards, Finnish news media MTV Uutiset reported.
He returned to Israel in 2017, after finishing his prison sentence early and, according to the Times of Israel, assumed a different identity by changing his name to Simon Leviev before fleeing the country again. He then took on a new identity as Simon Leviev, instead of Shimon Hayut, and began to scam women on Tinder.
According to online news media Variety, Leviev spent five months of a 15-month sentence in an Israeli prison in 2019.
He was also charged with theft, forgery and fraud for cashing stolen checks in 2011. It was reported in the documentary that he stole checkbooks belonging to a family which he was babysitting for and while working as a handyman in other peoples’ homes while in Israel. He never showed up to court; instead, he fled the country.
What’s happening now?
More victims have come forward since then, according to online newspaper Newsweek, including Ayleen Charlotte. Many potential victims have also contacted Fjellhøy and Sjoholm.
“We are expecting to hear from more people. There are loads of stories that we found that didn't make it into the film because you know we have to hit that streamline, or we're aware of dozens and dozens more victims so if there's anything that we can do to stop him from being able to continue, then that will be something,” said the Tinder Swindler’s producer Bernie Higgins in an interview with Newsweek.
Fjellhøy, Sjoholm, and Charlotte are now campaigning for justice and have set up their own GofundMe page, aiming to raise round $810,255 because they are still paying off their debts.
Leveiv’s Instagram account has been deactivated repeatedly since the documentary gained traction.
Addressing his followers in a recent Instagram post, he stated: “I will share my side of the story in the next few days when I have sorted out the best and most respectful way to tell it, both to the involved parties and myself. Until then, please keep an open mind and heart,” as reported by UK news media The Independent.
It remains unknown whether Leviev has deleted his account or if Instagram itself took it down, but several accounts in his name, both public and private, keep appearing and disappearing on Instagram.
In addition to losing his presence on Instagram, Tinder also removed his account just two days after the release of the documentary.
“We have conducted internal investigations and can confirm Simon Leviev is no longer active on tinder under any of his known aliases,” the statement released by Tinder read, as reported by Newsweek.
According to an NBC News report, Leviev has also been banned from other dating apps such as OkCupid, plenty of Fish, and Match.com.
LLD Diamonds also sent a statement to Newsweek, which read: “LLD Diamonds has been a well-regarded leader in the diamond industry for three decades. Our company has no connection whatsoever with Shimon Hayut. He is a fraud who has tried to exploit our good name to con victims out of millions of dollars.”
“Our sympathies go out to his victims. His fraud has also caused ongoing confusion about our company. Nothing he has said, about LLD or anything else, should be believed. As soon as we learned of the fraud, we filed a complaint with the Israeli police, and we hope that Mr. Hayut faces the justice he deserves.”
Sources from Netflix told Variety that The Tinder Swindler producers are currently in talks about turning the documentary into a drama series.
“Sources indicate that the conversation is in early stages and that the tone of a potential film is still being worked out,” the Variety report stated.