‘Tinder Swindler’: When love found online goes horribly wrong

Few films have captured audiences like The Tinder Swindler, Netflix’s most-watched documentary. It captivates everyone who has ever dated online, especially those who have been fished. But the con artist at the center of the film, Simon Leviev (aka Shimon Hayut), will not only break your heart, he’ll bust your bank account.

“It was a total surprise that the documentary was so well received. We knew we loved it. But the response has been overwhelming, almost frightening,” says first-time director Felicity Morris of the film’s success since its February 2 premiere and plans to turn it into a dramatic series.

Morris is a longtime producer whose credits also include the other creepy Netflix hit, Don’t F**k With Cats, about an animal abuser-turned-murderer whose whereabouts are being tracked by an online group, eventually leading him to court brings.

A similar arc is followed in The Tinder Swindler, which begins with Cecilie Fjellhøy recalling finding a match on Tinder with Leviev, posing as the son of a billionaire diamond dealer from Israel. On their first date, he spontaneously invites her to fly to Belgrade with him in his private jet. She eagerly accepts despite warnings from friends.

Over the next month, Fjellhøy falls madly in love. But then he claims to have survived an attempt on his life and can’t use any of his funds for fear that his pursuers might track him through his transactions. He asks for an exorbitant bridging loan. You oblige. In the weeks that followed, a pattern of requests emerged that slowly emptied Fjellhøy’s bank account. Over time, she learns that she is one of many women who are similarly targeted.

After reading about it in Norwegian tabloid VG, Morris hooked up with Fjellhøy and another of Leviev’s Tinder matches, Pernilla Sjöholm. During production, Ayleen Charlotte, Leviev’s last girlfriend before his arrest, contacted Sjöholm and joined the others in getting Leviev on camera.

“They had fire in their stomachs. They both wanted to do that more than anything and bring this story to a global platform,” says Morris, laughing. “So it felt like we were working together to tell this story in the best possible way. I think they really trusted us. They gave us their WhatsApp of their entire relationship.”

Confidence was key to the film’s success. It’s hard to get a stranger to open up about your love life, especially on camera, especially after being snared for over $100,000. Being of similar age and experience to her subjects gave Morris an advantage.

“I felt it took a woman to tell this story,” she says. “I always think it’s an act of vulnerability to swipe on Tinder because you’re like, ‘Look, I’m a little bit lonely, I’m here, I want someone.’ They were obviously embarrassed and it felt very exposed to them.”

Leviev sweeps his victims off their feet, often seeing several in a single day — with access to luxury jets, five-star hotel suites, Lamborghinis and helicopter taxis funded by money given to him by previous wives.

“We often wondered how he was able to keep up with all this. He remembered everything about these women. He knew her parents’ names, what jobs they had, their best friends, what their problems were, all those things,” says Morris. “Psychopaths have been with us since the beginning of time. But the influx of social media is allowing these narcissistic tendencies to spread even more. You show the world a picture of you, get people to like you, get people to follow you.”

While Leviev’s riches were an undeniable draw, Morris claims that was only part of the draw. His victims thought of him as someone with a strong work ethic who actually listened when they spoke, a rarity among first dates. He also made them feel that family and fatherhood were his priorities.

“It’s very hard for women to admit or say, ‘Yeah, I was attracted to the wealthy lifestyle,’ because they feel like people are going to say to them, ‘Then you deserve that happened,'” notes Morris. “Even if money was part of it, that doesn’t mean they deserve what he did to them. Blaming victims is ingrained in the world.”

Leviev has operated in different countries and jurisdictions, making it difficult to build a case against him. In the film, the women claim they borrowed money in their own names and voluntarily passed it on to him. These alleged incidents are not part of any criminal case against him. He was only arrested on allegations of fraud in his native Israel in 2011. He was sentenced to 15 months and served five.

Today he is dating Israeli model Kate Konlin and has resumed the high life. He claims he made his new fortune from NFTs and public appearances. And he reacted to the film.

“They present it as a documentary, but in reality it’s like a completely made-up movie,” Leviev told Inside Edition.

“I’m not a Tinder scammer,” he added.

Meanwhile, Fjellhøy, Sjöholm and Charlotte are still paying off the debt.

“I was adamant that the film should be about the experiences of the victims and not fetishize the criminal,” says Morris, noting that Leviev is certainly suffering his own private brand of punishment. “Imagine living a life where nothing around you is real, no relationships can be real because people don’t know exactly who you are. For me, this life would be completely empty.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-06-21/tinder-swindler ‘Tinder Swindler’: When love found online goes horribly wrong

Sarah Ridley

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