While scores of films and TV shows have chronicled the tales of extremely cunning scammers donning the garb of innocence to make cash off the innocent. However, Netflix’s recent true-crime release, The Tinder Swindler is an engrossing, thrilling and heartbreaking ride that recounts the nearly unimaginable story of three women. The sad story involves those women being conned by a man on a dating app, extorting various amounts of money from them before leaving them to rot (metaphorically).
In recent years, dating apps have dominated the greater part of people’s social lives due to their busy schedules, as Felicity Morris’s film begins by saying. It brings forth three women – Cecile Fjellhoy, Pernilla Sjohom and Ayleen Charlotte – who have all been scammed by the same Israeli man who posed as a diamond heir. While having no connection with the actual Leviev family, Simon Hayut, under the alias of Simon Leviev, ran a well-planned, complicated Ponzi scheme. He lured in his victims by displaying pictures of his apparent opulence and affluence, posing in jets and yachts, flying to meet them for coffee in different countries and meeting at luxurious hotels, all the while swindling money from them by talking about alleged “threats” in the business who pose danger to his safety.
Although Cecille’s impromptu decision of meeting a man she just matched with on Tinder and subsequently flying out to Bulgaria on the same day to accompany him displays her naivete, the fault cannot be pinned on any of them. The trio may have been on the lookout for different things, but, in essence, all any of the women wanted was love and warmth, something that the conman was ready to display.
Morris carefully and seamlessly blends in original footage shot by the women on their phones as well as text messages within her film to make it appear even more intense and realistic. As they narrate the events that led them to tumble down the rabbit hole, various images of Simon’s grandiose lifestyle come to the fore.
The film gets extremely disturbing from there as it shows how the women were ridiculed, shamed and made fun of for their predicament, almost driving them towards self-harm. The legal system failed them as did justice. Morris provided an intimate and in-depth insight into their emotional and mental status during this time, emphasising how people often make mistakes that they necessarily do not deserve.
Their situation makes us think about all the wolves that lurk around us in sheep’s clothing, waiting to take advantage of our trust and emotions. Simon Leviev, sinister and cunning, played his cards right and won over their trust only to shatter it completely and leave them emotionally, financially and socially ravaged.
However, the documentary also shows how Pernilla and Ayleen go to extreme lengths to seek justice, often taking up methods that could supposedly backfire. When Simon gets finally arrested by Interpol for using a fake passport, the viewers probably breathe a sigh of relief. But not for long! After just a few months in jail, Simon is a ‘free man’ in Israel, still flaunting the same grand lifestyle with designer clothing, luxurious cars and more. It is shocking and depressing to see how the women who braved public humiliation and degradation were absolutely denied justice.
A true horror story of the current society that blurs the line between the truth and the lie, the failure on part of the law enforcement system is highlighted at the end of the film and finally tells the story of courage and resilience on the part of these three women who persevered and survived this battle.
Watch The Tinder Swindler on Netflix.