The Tinder Swindler Exposes the Rise of Romance Scams

the tinder swindler

If you’ve watched Netflix’s new documentary The Tinder Swindler, you’re already familiar with Shimon Hayut, a con man who goes by the name of Simon Leviev. Not long ago, Leviev bilked dozens of people across the world out of millions of pounds, running a scam that amounted to a Ponzi scheme: Using the money he’d emotionally manipulated out of one mark, he’d dupe the next into believing he was a wealthy businessman, and he continued the con women to give up their life savings until his luck ran out as his ex girlfriend Ayleen Charlotte revealed his location to authorities when he fled Amsterdam.

The Netflix film, directed by Felicity Morris, examines how Leviev swindled three women, all of whom were left with tens — if not hundreds — of thousands of pounds in debt. Two of them, Cecilie Fjellhøy and Pernilla Sjoholm, told their story to the Norwegian publication VG in 2019 in the hopes of preventing Leviev from entrapping other women. Later that year, Leviev was arrested in Greece by Interpol and the Israel Police and extradited to Israel, where he was tried on outstanding charges of fraud and sentenced to 15 months in prison.

As the Netflix film recounts, Leviev serves less than two years in prison, which for many of the victims shocked them as this was not enough to cover the emotional and financial damage the conman had caused to his victims as Fjellhøy and Sjoholm weren’t his only victims.

How Much Money Did Simon Leviev Get From His Tinder Romance Scams?

According to Netflix, an estimated £7.4 million ($10 million). Simon Leviev who is known in real life as Shimon Yehuda Hayut would evade repayment by cajoling, threatening and otherwise stalling his victims: He made a habit of sending increasingly unhinged WhatsApp voice messages, even sending one to the filmmakers when he learned about The Tinder Swindler’s existence.

 

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Where Is Simon Leviev Now?

At the end of the film, directors reached out to Leviev for comments and they also captured snippets of his life in Israel after being released from prison. From the clips viewers can see at home you can witness how the conman seems to be living a good life in Israel. Footage posted to his Instagram account shows him enjoying luxury goods including an iPhone, designer trainers, sports cars, and more. He was also, at least at one time, dating an Israeli model called Kate Konlin.

Does He Still Have a Tinder Profile?

Tinder has confirmed it has removed and banned the man featured in the Netflix documentary The Tinder Swindler, and his “known aliases,” from the dating app. A spokesperson for Tinder told journalists that Hayut is no longer active on the app under any of his aliases and has been banned since his actions became public in 2019.

The Rise of Romance Fraud

Data provided by UK Finance revealed that there has been a 20% increase in bank transfer romance fraud between January – November 2020 compared to the previous year, with the total value of these scams rising by 12% to £18.5 million. The average loss per victim reported to UK Finance members was £7,850, highlighting the significant impact this type of fraud can have on victims’ finances.

Criminals have tricked victims into sending them money in many ways, not just via a bank transfer as Action for Fraud has seen a rise in reports made by members of the public who have fallen victim to romance fraud in 2020, with total reported losses equating to over £68 million. In these reports, victims have lost money by sending fraudsters gift cards, vouchers or money via banter transfer.

 

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 What is a Romance Scam?

Romance scams involve people being duped into sending money to criminals who go to great lengths to gain their trust and convince them that they are in a genuine relationship. They use language to manipulate, persuade and exploit so that requests for money do not raise alarm bells. These requests might be highly emotive, such as criminals claiming they need money for emergency medical care, or to pay for transport costs to visit the victim if they are overseas.

The rise in romance scams comes as more people have turned to online dating during 2020 due to social distancing restrictions. Figures from the Online Dating Association (ODA) estimate that over 2.3 million Brits used dating apps during the first lockdown, with 64% of people surveyed seeing dating apps as a lifeline for those living alone. While the internet can be a great way to meet people and form new relationships, the growth in popularity of online dating is giving criminals more opportunities to exploit and coerce people into parting with their money.

Scammers will often build a relationship with their victims over time, the ODA’s data shows that over half (53%) of people surveyed are having longer conversations on dating services during lockdown. UK Finance is therefore calling on people to look out for their friends and family this Valentine’s Day. Dating app users should also speak to their friends and family for advice, and follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign to keep themselves safe from scams.

Romance Scams: What Are the Different Types?

In 2021, Action Fraud has identified a new trend of investment fraud linked to romance fraud, where victims have been encouraged by someone they’ve met online to invest money in cryptocurrency or foreign exchange trading (forex), but the scheme turned out to be a sham. Action Fraud has received over 100 reports of this new kind of romance fraud between January and March, with reported losses by victims totalling over £2 million.

What Are the Signs to Watch Out For?

It’s important to note here, that it can be hard to see red flags when you’re in a new romance and full of hope for what the future might hold.

We have written down some tips given by Action for Fraud about what singletons should be looking for when it comes to spotting a romance scam:

  • The person making constant excuses as to why they can’t video chat or meet in person.
  • The person trying to move the conversation off the platform you met on (as these are more regulated).
  • The person asking for financial help because of a time-critical emergency that’s also emotive. They’ll give a story that makes them appear emotional and may become defensive if their financial requests aren’t met and blame the victim for not averting the crisis.
  • The person telling you not to talk about the online relationship with friends and family.

How to Protect Yourself From a Romance Scam?

The majority of online dating sites, social media sites and gaming apps are perfectly safe, but any online platform that allows you to connect with and talk to other people could be targeted by romance fraudsters so it’s important to take steps to protect yourself.

No matter how long you’ve been speaking to someone online and how much you trust them, if you haven’t met them in person, do not do any of these things:

  • Send them any money.
  • Allow them access to your bank account.
  • Transfer money on their behalf.
  • Applying for a credit card.
  • Take a loan out for them.
  • Provide copies of your personal documents such as passport or driving license.
  • Invest your own money on their behalf or on their advice.
  • Purchase and send the codes on gift cards from Amazon or iTunes.
  • Agree to receive or send parcels on their behalf (laptops, mobile phones etc)