‘Tinder Swindler’: When love found online goes horribly wrong
Few movies have captivated audiences like Netflix’s most-watched documentary “The Tinder Swindler.” Fascinating for anyone who’s ever dated online, it’s especially true for those who’ve been fished out. But the crook at the center of the film, Simon Leviev (aka Shimon Hayut), won’t just break your heart, he’ll break your bank account.
“The fact that the documentary did so well was a total surprise. We knew we loved it. But the response has been out of the ordinary, almost anxiety-inducing,” says first-time director Felicity Morris, reflecting on the success of the film since its premiere on February 2, as well as plans to turn it into a drama series.
Morris is a longtime producer whose credits include that other chilling Netflix hit, “Don’t F**k With Cats,” about an animal abuser-turned-murderer whose whereabouts are tracked down by a group online, ultimately bringing him to justice.
A similar arc is followed in “The Tinder Swindler”, which begins with Cecilie Fjellhøy recalling finding a match on Tinder with Leviev, who was posing as the son of a billionaire diamond dealer from Israel. On their first date, he spontaneously invites her to join him in his private jet to Belgrade. She eagerly accepts despite her friends’ warnings.
Over the next month, Fjellhøy falls head over heels in love. But then he claims to have survived an assassination attempt and can’t use any of his funds lest his pursuers find him through his dealings. He asks for an exorbitant bridging loan. She obliges. In the weeks that followed, a pattern of demands emerged, slowly emptying Fjellhøy’s bank account. In time, she learns that she is one of many women similarly targeted.
After reading about them in the Norwegian tabloid VG, Morris met Fjellhøy and another Tinder match from Leviev, Pernilla Sjöholm. During production, Ayleen Charlotte, Leviev’s last girlfriend before his arrest, contacted Sjöholm and joined the others in having Leviev filmed.
“They had fire in their stomachs. They both wanted to do this more than anything and get this story out on a global platform,” Morris said with a laugh. “So I felt like we were working together to tell this story in the best way possible. I think they really trusted us. They gave us back their WhatsApp of their whole relationship.
Trust was essential for the film to work. It’s hard to get a stranger to talk about their love life, especially on camera, especially after being caught for over $100,000. Being the same age and experience as his subjects gave Morris an advantage.
“I felt that a woman was needed to tell this story,” she says. “I always think swiping on Tinder is an act of vulnerability because you’re like, ‘Look, I’m kinda lonely, I’m here, I want someone.’ They were obviously embarrassed and it was very telling for them.
Leviev sweeps up his victims, often seeing several in a single day – with access to luxury jets, five-star hotel suites, Lamborghinis and helicopter taxis, funded by money the previous women gave him.
“We often wondered how he kept up with all of this. He remembered everything about these women. He knew their parents’ names, the jobs they had, their best friends, the problems they had, all those things,” Morris says. “Psychopaths have been with us since the dawn of time. But the influx of social media somehow allows these narcissistic tendencies to manifest even more. You are broadcasting an image of yourself to the world, you are getting people to like you, you are getting people to follow you.
While Leviev’s wealth was an undeniable attraction, Morris argues that was only part of the attraction. His victims viewed 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 a priority for him.
“It’s very hard for women to admit or say, ‘Yes, I was attracted to the wealthy lifestyle’, because they feel like people will say to them, ‘So you deserve this. happens,'” Morris notes. . “Even if the money was part of it, that doesn’t mean they deserve what he did to them. Victim blaming is embedded in the world.
Leviev operated in different countries and jurisdictions, making it difficult to build a case against him. In the film, the women claim that they borrowed money in their own name and voluntarily passed it on to him. These alleged incidents are not part of any criminal case against him. He was only arrested on fraud charges dating back to 2011 in his native Israel. He was sentenced to 15 months and served five.
Today, he is dating Israeli model Kate Konlin and has started living the high life again, claiming he made his newfound fortune in NFTs and public appearances. And he responded to the film.
“They present it as a documentary, but in truth, it’s like a completely made-up movie,” Leviev said. says “Inside Edition”.
“I’m not a Tinder scammer,” he said. added.
Meanwhile, Fjellhøy, Sjöholm and Charlotte are still paying off their debts.
“I was determined that the film would speak to the experience of the victims and not fetishize the criminal,” Morris says, noting that Leviev surely suffers his own form of punishment. “Imagine living a life where nothing around you is real, no relationship can be real because people don’t know exactly who you are. For me, that life would be entirely empty.