Somewhere in the space between guilty pleasure and cautionary tale lives Netflix’s new catfishing doc The Tinder Swindler. It’s the true-life story of a handsome billionaire, Simon Leviev, who turns out, well, not to be a billionaire after all, but an Israeli fraudster called Shimon Hayut. He is also the cause of immense suffering for the women who fall in love with him.
Claiming to be the son of a billionaire and a diamond executive, Leviev/Hayut’s Tinder profile spoke of global jet-setting, designer labels, fast cars, and a watch collection to make Jay-Z jealous. But he also seemed to be a soft-hearted romantic who wanted nothing more than to settle down with the right woman and, presumably, fit a baby seat into one of those Lamborghinis. With the help and testimony of three of his marks, director Felicity Morris exposes his real scheme, dragging this fraudster out of the shadows and into a billion living rooms. Her film shows a catfisher’s tricks in all their gory, incredible detail. Here’s why you need to watch it.
Warning: contains mild spoilers for The Tinder Swindler.
1. It shows the scary sophistication of catfishers
Who doesn’t put their best foot forward when it comes to online dating? You’d be a fool to stick a photo of yourself with bed hair and a slice of last night’s pizza in your hand – however closely it may tally with the current reality. But that bloke with the doped lion, the gaggle of trustworthy-looking friends and the chiselled abs? The Tinder Swindler will have you asking if they’re even his real abs. And more than that, it will act as a reminder that not to trust your Google background research or even your eyes: Leviev’s bona fides seem to check out and his lifestyle appears to conform with his profile (his first-date venue of choice is always a posh hotel, occasionally followed up with a ride in his private jet). But the art of a catfisher is to spread the subterfuge of the digital realm into the IRL one. Nothing in The Tinder Swindler is what it appears.
2. The fraudster’s marks are heroes, not victims
A compelling doc doesn’t just tell a great story, it introduces characters to really root for – or hiss. The Tindler Swindler has three of them: Cecilie Fjellhoy, a Norwegian ex-pat living in London; 31-year-old Pernilla Sjoholm; and Ayleen Charlotte. All three fall under the spell of the catfisher after meeting him on Tinder, before fighting back in inspiring fashion. To say more would be to give away too many of the film’s twists and turns – suffice to say that all three are cyber-heroes who deserve to be cheered from the rooftops. ‘What happened to me felt like a movie,’ says Fjellhoy. And now it is.
What happened to me felt like a movie
3. The fraudster is a kind of one-man Fyre festival
Over-promising and under-delivering on a Fyre-like scale, a relationship with this film’s unscrupulous fraudster is not what it says on the tin. Forget the Riddler in The Batman or Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts 3, the year will do well to throw up a villain to match him. His grooming and victimisation of lovestruck marks is sinister enough, but the adoption of classic coercive control techniques to bully and generally scare the shit out of the women is truly despicable. You’ll kinda hate his designer clothes too.
4. It’s true-crime, only not…
This horrifying tale of fraud, blackmail and deceit should fit snugly into the true-crime canon, alongside docs like The Imposter (with which The Tindler Swindler shares a filmmaker – exec-producer Bart Layton), Tiger King and West of Memphis. But as The Tindler Swindler incisively charts, many of these things aren’t even considered criminal in multiple countries. Like hit UK podcast Sweet Bobby, the film lays bare just how hopelessly analogue modern policing is in the face of digital fraud. Hopefully, it will serve as a wake-up call.
5. It’s a terrific procedural
The real moral of the film may be that if the law doesn’t catch up with you, a team of intrepid journalists/podcasters/filmmakers almost certainly will – as the doc charts when an Oslo newspaper stumbles on the story. Who knows? Maybe becoming the subject of a Netflix doc is the new police mugshot.
The Tinder Swindler is on Netflix worldwide now.
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