Netflix’s The Tinder Swindler shows why you should think twice before you swipe right.
Picture this: you grew up in a small town, are enamoured with The Beauty and the Beast (you know every word), convinced life is about love, and consider yourself a ‘tinder expert’. You have been on an unlucky Tinder strike for 8 years, but you’re still hopeful that you’ll find that “diamond in the rough”. Suddenly, someone checks all your boxes. The man is Simon Leviev: he is magnetically handsome, has a respectable following on social media, and is a billionaire who, coincidentally, inherited LLD Diamonds from his father, Lev Leviev, the “King of Diamonds”. You swipe right. It’s a match. He instantly messages. You, a small-town girl “hoping for something bigger”, hoping that your “prince is coming to save you”, may finally be saved. The prince to complete your Disney fantasy has been found. But, as Cecilie Fjellhøy, this very girl, uglily discovered, “it’s finding a prince charming in real life that’s hard.”
Currently sitting at number 1 of the UK’s Top 10 Trending Netflix shows, the new True-Crime documentary, The Tinder Swindler tragically showcases what happens when the perfect man turns out to be a fraudster (literally). Produced by the same team as Don’t F*ck With Cats, The Tinder Swindler dissects Simon Leviev’s deceitful scam while also highlighting the emotional and financial, devastation it caused his victims. In a fittingly intimate setting, the producers interview Simon’s victims Cecilie Fjellhøy, Pernilla Sjöholm and Ayleen Charlotte who openly tell their stories. With each case almost identical, besides minor discrepancies in the types of relationships he shared with them, all three women were scammed into giving Shimon Hayut, otherwise known as Simon Leviev, thousands of dollars.
Promising a fairytale, Hayut would pose as an Israeli billionaire involved in the diamond industry, seduce women with fancy dates, subsequent trips on his private jet and stays in luxury hotels. At the beginning of her story, Fjellhøy quotes Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953): “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn’t marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?”. However, despite gold-digger claiming Twitter-warriors begging to differ, his monied veneer was not what kept these women interested: it was the deep emotional connections he would create with them. After whisking them away on his jet, Hayut would hook them on ‘I miss you’ and ‘I love you’ messages, send them bouquets of roses and ask them to move in with him. It was as if he had read every Jane Austen novel and embodied them. Hayut latched on to their rom-com fantasies and exploited them.
On their first date, Hayut took Cecilie Fjellhøy, the first victim that True-Crime interviews, to the Four Seasons Hotel in London, before proposing she come with him to Bulgaria, on his private jet, for business. Despite what we (and Cecilie’s friends were thinking when they told her “you could be abducted), Cecile decided that, since they had such a magnetic connection, and he had been so honest with her, she would go with him. On this trip, Fjellhøy met the mother of Hayut’s two year old child, who praised him for his support in the face of their split. Comforted by his kindness and generosity, Fjellhøy enjoyed a night with Hayut, in which she asked him about the marks on his back. He replied that he got them after spending time in prison as a result of being wrongfully convicted. This was all before Fjellhøy was rushed away by Hayut in the morning and told that he had to go to Oslo for a ‘business trip’.
Slowly but surely, Hayut buttered up Fjellhøy with empty promises. He asked her to be his girlfriend and sent her apartment hunting. It was not long, however, until he fabricated a $70 million security deal in Israel, which resulted in him receiving bullets in the mail. Hayut was a master of emotional manipulation: not only would he make his victims fall in love with him, but he would make them fear for his safety and theirs. Adding to the worry, Hayut would also spend extended periods away from her, off on rendezvous with his other matches. Hayut was away for so long that Fjellhøy checked his Tinder profile to see his location. I know, even though we’re all questioning why he would have kept his Tinder profile despite being in a relationship, Hayut managed to fool Fjellhøy once again and promised her it had been deleted. But, his Tinder was very much active, and its location was, indeed, changing as he flew into every scam.
One thing The Tinder Swindler certainly has to be commended for is its effortless transitions between victim accounts. As viewers, we are made to feel great sympathy towards Hayut’s victims: we are aligned with them in the unravelling of the narrative; were are guided through their intrigue, betrayal and manipulation, and are shown their vulnerability. They are seduced by his charms and want to believe him. This engaging method is complemented by real, archived footage filmed on the victims’ phones. Some videos, sent to different women, are even identical. How The Tinder Swindler is structured makes it into a Netflix-made Matryoshka doll: the mystery keeps unwrapping along the entirety of the documentary. Through these seamless transitions between testimony and footage, Hayut’s viciousness is made especially clear. Using love to manipulate, Hayut uses these women’s purest emotions for financial gain.
Although, Hayut did use a slightly different strategy for Pernilla Sjöholm. After deciding their connection was purely friendly after their first date in Amsterdam (which included a visit to a diamond museum). Describing Hayut as “another diamond guy”, Sjöholm was shocked to discover she missed him after their intense first meeting. And, he missed her too. They decided to remain close friends, leading Sjöholm to describe him as “her battery charger”. Sjöholm also noted that Hayut “even flew over to have a coffee with me because I was having a bad day”. Even on a friendship level, Hayut seemed to break the “men are trash” ceiling and exceed all of Sjöholm’s expectations. So much so, that she changed his name on her phone to “Simon” with a prince emoji next to it: the most fitting one she could find. After a few months of chatting, Sjöholm was invited to travel across Europe with Hayut and his girlfriend, Polina, a young Russian model. Sjöholm accepted this invitation.
However, to get away from Fjellhøy for so long, a bulletproof fabrication was needed. Taking advantage of the fact that Fjellhøy believed that he had received bullets in the mail, Hayut pretended that he and his bodyguard, Peter, were attacked. Texting Fjellhøy the words ‘Peter hurt’ in the middle of the night, along with pictures of his bloody face, Hayut fooled Fjellhøy into believing he had been attacked by “his enemies”. Cleverly, Hayut capitalised on Fjellhøy’s emotional vulnerability and asked if he could use her American Express credit cards after being told to freeze his. He also told her to meet him in Amsterdam, and to bring $25,000 with her, so, Fjellhøy takes out her first loan. By the end of their relationship, she owed thousands of dollars to nine different creditors.
But this isn’t where his violent scheme ended. After arriving in Amsterdam, Hayut staged a fake attack in Fjellhøy’s presence. Terrified for her life and for Hayut’s, Fjellhøy prepared to credit up. Being told by Hayut that he is travelling for safety purposes, Fjellhøy kept calling the bank and wiring him money; she even changed her status to employed by him so that he could keep filtering money through her account. In reality, though, Hayut wasn’t under attack, he was lying under a hammock in Greece.
Telling Fjellhøy that if he couldn’t use her card he “would be in danger”, Hayut was $250,00 in debt. After getting frustrated with her when the bank wouldn’t cash his cheque, Fjellhøy described Hayut as “a darkness”; he was “no longer [her] boyfriend”. Even while facing multiple creditors, Fjellhøy regretted to admit she “still wanted him to be the only”, she “was still in love with him”. As Fjellhøy breaks down on camera, it became incredibly hard to believe the comments I had been reading about her on social media. She was not a gold digger, she was a woman who was manipulated and had her heart (and bank account) shattered into pieces. There is a great pathos to her story: while, at first, it seemed as if The Tinder Swindler would be a run-of-the-mill catfish story, it breaks the hearts of its viewers too. Pernilla was also given the same treatment: Hayut fabricated a headline where his ‘father’ was under fire for a smuggling case, told her his life was in danger, and took all her money.
But, despite its tragedy, this is where The Tinder Swindler really becomes a story of empowerment and womanhood. After threatening her life, Fjellhøy decided she “had to stop Simon”, so “she went to the biggest paper in Norway”. Verdens Gang (VG) newspaper described it as “an unbelievable story”, and set on tracking him down to stop him. Discovering that Simon Leviev was previously known as Shimon Hayut, a convicted criminal who defrauded Finnish women in 2015, it became clear to VG that he was a serial scammer. It also turned out that he was notorious among the American Express security team, and the mother of his child had also been one of his previous victims.
In order to investigate further, VG journalists took to Israel and discovered that Hayut, a man of feigned luxury, forged a passport and escaped a monotonously normal life after being suspected of stealing a cheque from his employer in 2011. After confirming his identity, VG enlisted Pernilla to help them. While both women were incredibly empowering, Pernilla certainly emerged as the true heroine of this story. Flying to Munich with the team of journalists behind her, Pernilla was set on exposing Hayut, and, after confronting him, Hayut threatened her with “there will be a price to pay for this, and it will be bigger than money”.
VG successfully published a scammer-logue on Hayut, and helped multiple women escape his manipulation before it started. Coming together to stop him, Fjellhøy and Sjöholm used their stories to save others. Notably, it also rescued the documentary’s third victim as she was boarding a flight. Upon reading VG’s article, Ayleen Charlotte, a luxury fashion worker, decided she was going to “swindle the Tinder Swindler”. Pretending to believe Hayut’s pathetic lies, Charlotte continued to act as his girlfriend, and was soon hit with Hayut’s “Peter hurt” so “I need money” texts. He even attempted to change his face at a private plastic surgery practice in Prague, before being refused on the basis that “only criminals” ask for such a change. However, instead of fearfully taking out loans, Charlotte suggested she sell all of Hayut’s luxury clothes. He readily accepted, but little did he know that Charlotte was keeping the money to make back all the money he had already stolen from her. When he realised he wasn’t receiving this money, his threats began. He even proposed that he and Charlotte join swindler forces to make more money, but she refused.
Although I couldn’t help but question “why wouldn’t he go to his rich daddy for money?”, Charlotte said he transitioned from “the prince of diamonds to a homeless king”. In fact, it was Charlotte who was finally able to ensure that he was arrested. However, to much dismay, Hayut was only sentenced to five years in prison, and was released after fifteen months. He has also retained his life of luxury, set up a website for ‘free’ business advice, and even has a girlfriend. His victims, however, have still not been able to pay off their debts. In this vein, a GoFundMe page has been set up for Fjellhøy, Sjöholm and Charlotte: a generous move that was attacked by Hayut for defaming him. After requesting a comment from him, he has also threatened True Crime with a lawsuit for libelling him.
Hayut still did not believe that Charlotte “was capable of doing this”, which speaks volumes to how lowly he thought of his victims. Even though she has made back some of her money, it still has not been enough to regain the $140,000 he took from her. So, what d’say, will you be thinking before you swipe?
Sophie Macdonald is a second year English Student at Cambridge University, and is the Editor-in-Chief for The Cambridge Student.