In the age of social media, there’ve been some (very public) hard lessons about online dating. But Netflix’s latest true-crime documentary is showing how much love can hurt us (and our wallets). Since its release on Feb. 2, “The Tinder Swindler” has reportedly reached the top 10 weekly film viewing chart in 92 countries. We Skimm’d the story behind the doc and its lessons on romance scams. Plus, we’ve got tips on how you can protect yourself from being swindled next time you swipe right, especially ahead of Valentine’s Day. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
“The Tinder Swindler” features the stories of three women: Ayleen Charlotte, Cecilie Fjellhøy, and Pernilla Sjöholm. Throughout the nearly two-hour documentary, each woman details their separate relationships with a man they swiped right on in 2018 and 2019. On Tinder, he said his name was Simon Leviev and claimed to be the billionaire son of an Israeli diamond tycoon. He allegedly wooed the women with high-end dates (think: private jets and luxury hotels). And with messages of building a future (read: love bombing). All three of the women claim they developed deep relationships with Leviev over several months — two of them even felt he was ‘the one.’
But Leviev wasn’t who he claimed to be. His real name: Shimon Hayut. (Now infamously known as the ‘Tinder Swindler.’) He’s a convicted fraudster who’s allegedly stolen an estimated $10 million from people around the world — mainly women from dating apps. In the doc, Charlotte, Fjellhøy, and Sjöholm share how they were allegedly swindled and sought to get justice (and hundreds of thousands of dollars) back. Tudum.
Spoiler: Charlotte manages to swindle the Tinder Swindler, helping authorities arrest Hayut. But he only served five months in prison for charges not related to the women featured in the doc. Now, the women are crowdfunding to help pay off their debts. Some justice, right? Hayut’s promising to sue the filmmakers for defamation. A Tinder spokeswoman told NBC he was banned as soon as they learned about his actions in 2019. And confirmed “Leviev is not active on Tinder under any of his known aliases.” And that he’s also banned from Hinge, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, and Match.com. But he's still out there...along with many other fraudsters (like ‘The Puppet Master’). It's given us all a lesson in romance scams that we didn't know we needed.
Romance scams trick people into believing they’ve found love in a hopeless place (read: the internet). But in reality, the person they swiped right on is a cybercriminal. They use tech to their advantage to create a fake identity (because on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog). The goal? Gain their victim’s trust and affection...and steal their money.
Last year, Americans were scammed out of a record $547 million in losses from romance scams — nearly an 80% increase from the year prior. And it's not just straight up cash. It can come in different forms like gift cards and even cryptocurrency. The Federal Trade Commission says the largest reported losses last year were paid in crypto (read: $139 million). Officials have pointed to the increasing popularity of dating apps and sites as a reason for the spike.
But David McClellan, the president of SocialCatfish.com which published the study “State of Internet Scams 2021," told theSkimm that dating sites are not the only issue. “A lot of these romance scams actually don't even happen on dating sites. They happen on Instagram and Facebook. They happen on WhatsApp. They even happen in games, like Words with Friends.”
“So basically anywhere online that you can chat with somebody, there are probably scammers trying to figure out how to scam you,” he added. Which brings us to…
In 2021, the FTC saw the largest increase in romance scam reports from 18- to 29-year-olds (though older people are still susceptible to them too). McClellan said many people fall victim because they just “didn’t think that this stuff could happen to them.” Hindsight is 20/20. And it's important to stay educated about the warning signs.
The FTC says scam artists typically follow a trend. Here’s some of the sketchy activity to look out for:
They say they live and work outside the US (think: working in the military, on oil rigs or for international orgs)
They ask their victims for money to pay for flights, medical expenses, or custom fees to receive something
They ask for money to be wired or for gift cards from Amazon, iTunes, or Google Play
And here’s how you can avoid being caught in a bad romance (scam):
Never send money or gifts to a person you haven’t met IRL.
Drop the person if they ask for money. End any DMs or other communication…ASAP.
Research the person’s profile to see if their name and details come up elsewhere. This is a good step to take especially if things seem too good to be true.
Ask lots of questions. And trust your gut. If something feels wrong, Tinder recommends blocking and reporting it.
When you first match with someone, it’s a good idea to do a reverse image search of the person’s picture to compare and contrast details. If they don’t match up, that’s a sign of a scam. Tips on how to do that here and here.
Talk to someone you trust about the new person in your life. And try to listen (with an open mind) to any concerns they may have.
If you do find yourself (or someone you know) in the midst of being scammed — take action. McClellan noted that the FBI is one of the best places to report it to. "Sometimes they do reach out to the victims, if there's enough information. Or if you have multiple victims that submit the same information, it gives them enough footprints to start working on a case,” he said.
We hope you won’t need this, but if you do, file a complaint here.
Love is already complicated. As “The Tinder Swindler” has shown, romance scams can add even more heartbreak. And with the uptick in digital crime, it’s more important than ever to stay vigilant when it comes to who you’re sharing personal information and money with online.
Skimm'd by Maria del Carmen Corpus, Maria McCallen, Kamini Ramdeen-Chowdhury, and Clem Robineau
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