The Tinder Swindler Review: Money scams on a love app

A docu-drama on how a man conned women he met on a dating app — and how they got together to deal him comeuppance. But underlying the broader narrative is the story of how technology can be fraught with human vulnerabilities


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 24 Feb 2022, 8:52 PM

One social trend that has upended traditional notions of “finding romantic love” is the unleashing of a flurry of dating apps. People, these days, lonelier than ever before, living and working away from home (and its attendant familiarity), yet so caught up in the teeming trivia of tech, are looking for shortcuts in the “game” of romantic love. Apps such as Tinder have enabled dating to become like an on-command operation, where you can put up a profile and post some pictures and go on a fishing expedition. The problem is, other than this means being a lazy and short-sighted one, you can put up fake profiles and fake photos and lead misplaced romantics up the garden path.

It is not unusual to come across scores of anecdotes with the bottom line that says “what you see (on the app) is not what you get”. But it gets way murkier when dating apps are used to ensnare unsuspecting — and desperate — men and women who believe they will chance upon love (transient or permanent) at the click of a button.

The Tinder Swindler is a docu-drama that presents us with the case of three women who were conned by the same man in the same period of time; the scene of action — with all three being involved with him without being aware of the other two’s existence — mainly crisscrosses European cities. The man, Simon Leviev, is a smooth-talking fraudster who poses as a wealthy, jet-setting diamond mogul. Women fall for, or are at least convinced of, his good looks, his thoughtfulness, his proclamations of love (and/or friendship) and his lifestyle. The three women are (1) Cecilie Fjellhøy, who’s convinced she’s met the man of her dreams on the first date and then embarks on a relationship with the gold-edged promise of marriage and children; (2) Pernilla Sjöholm, with who he doesn’t really have a romantic liaison, but develops a deep friendship with; and (3) Ayleen Charlotte, who believes she is Simon’s fiancé, and is looking for apartments in which they can live after the wedding while her partner is allegedly travelling on work and rarely to be seen. The three live in three different countries, and Simon manages to spend some time with all of them when he plays his part of being a generous and well-meaning man to the hilt.

Then, he begins to borrow money from them, on the pretext that his “enemies” are after him, and that his bank accounts have been frozen due to “security” reasons. But he’s actually taking money from one to splurge on the other (or others), before reinventing the wheel. Later, when the three realise they are being scammed and cheated on, they find ways to reach out to the others. They get together, take their story to a media house, and soon the journalists discover that Simon had been arrested earlier on a similar charge — but then released. There’s a criminal investigation launched, and the rest of The Tinder Swindler is a reality check on the dubious ways of how scamsters continue to get away with fraud, over and over again.

The drama is in the form of actual interviews and recreated situations using footage from WhatsApp videos, voice notes and messages and sundry social media interactions. While it is a compelling and, often, jaw-dropping storyboard of modern-day lives, what is disturbing is how out-of-sync we — as a species — are with reality: technology is supposed to make us lead a smarter existence… alas, that’s not the case.

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