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Print Editions Thursday September 28th, 2023

'Tinder Swindler,' a cautionary tale turned redemption story

Out hundreds-of-thousands of dollars, three women recount relationships with conman

<p>The recent Netflix true-crime documentary landed a spot on Netflix’s Top 10.</p>

The recent Netflix true-crime documentary landed a spot on Netflix’s Top 10.

It’s your classic modern romance.

A girl swipes right on an attractive Israeli man on Tinder. It’s a match! The two talk on the app and then begin messaging through WhatsApp. After a romantic and glamorous first date at London’s Four Seasons Hotel, he invites her to travel with him to Bulgaria in his private jet that very day. A month into the relationship, she’s convinced it’s true love. He asks her to move in and she begins hunting for apartments. He tells her their budget is $15,000 per month.

Then, he starts asking her for money. He says his “enemies” are after him and that he needs to borrow her credit card. He maxes it out and asks her to take out a loan. Then another. Then some cash. Once she is nearly $250,000 in debt, she realizes something is terribly wrong.

While this nightmarish scenario may sound made-up, it was the unfortunate reality for Cecilie Fjellhøy after conman Simon Leviev (born Shimon Hayut) charmed her on the popular dating app.


Directed by Felicity Morris, the British true-crime documentary “The Tinder Swindler” aired on Netflix on Feb. 2. It follows the story of three women Leviev duped: Fjellhøy, Pernilla Sjoholm and Ayleen Charlotte.

The audience first meets Fjellhøy, a romantic who has spent years searching for the love of her life on Tinder. Woven into Fjellhøy’s storyline is the tale of Sjoholm. While Sjoholm did not fall for Leviev’s romantic appeal, she remained friends with him and joined him on several trips, parties and dinners. When her “friend” told Sjoholm he was in trouble, she did not hesitate to help him out. She, too, incurred massive debt.

Charlotte, the third woman featured in the documentary, dated Leviev for 14 months. She loaned him money after he fed her the same story he gave the other two women: his “enemies” were after him, he needed to go off the grid and needed her money to do so.

While at first the “Tinder Swindler'' appears to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of dating apps and the pervasiveness of conmen, it quickly morphs into a tale of redemption. While these three women may have independently fallen at the hands of Leviev, they band together to plot his demise. “Where this fairytale ends, a revenge thriller begins,” Netflix writes about the documentary.

The film itself, which currently sits on Netflix’s Top 10, is a part of the victims’ redemption. After all, it has exposed Leviev’s antics to millions of viewers within a matter of weeks. On Feb. 5, Fjellhøy, Sjoholm and Charlotte started a GoFundMe that has already raised more than $196,217 out of their $816,699 goal.

The documentary masterfully captures the trajectory of an unimaginable situation — a man charming and manipulating several women into giving him a fortune — becoming possible. “The Tinder Swindler” portrays the three women as sympathetic victims rather than foolish, love-sick romantics. Many viewers walk into the documentary cynically. They simply cannot imagine why anyone would give their boyfriend of one month hundreds of thousands of dollars. By the end, however, there is one question on the audience’s mind: “Could Simon Leviev have fooled me too?"



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