‘Catfishing on a whole new level’: The shocking story of the Tinder scammer | Documentary films

OWhen Cecilie Fjellhøy first met the man she knew as Simon Leviev for a 10 a.m. coffee at the Four Seasons Hotel in London in January 2018, he seemed to align with her Tinder profile. His photos were flashy — designer clothes and expensive sunglasses in fancy cars and private jets — and his in-person demeanor was equally debonair. “He has this magnetism,” Fjellhøy recalled of his first impression in the Netflix documentary The Tinder Swindler, released this week. “There’s something about this guy that’s special.”

Fjellhøy, then a 29-year-old Norwegian graduate student living in London, was charmed by the man who claimed to be the “prince of diamonds”, a billionaire heir to the diamond fortune of Israeli tycoon Lev Leviev. And she was surprised: Simon had to leave this afternoon for a business trip to Sofia, Bulgaria. Would she like to accompany him on a private jet? She agreed – “I felt I would be stupid if I said no,” she says – and the film, directed by Felicity Morris, stitches together the journey through documentation on Fjellhøy’s phone. There is a “Yolo” WhatsApp message to his friends; photos of Leviev’s security team aboard the private jet; video of the woman and toddler Leviev said was his ex and child, and one in which Fjellhøy kisses him on the cheek. They spent the night together at the hotel, and she returned to London the next day, in love with the man with whom she began exchanging messages daily.

It’s called The Tinder Swindler, it’s not bliss forever; it would take Fjellhøy months, $250,000 in unpaid loans and a team of investigators from Norway’s biggest newspaper to find out, but nothing Leviev said or did was true. The bodyguard? A committed installer. The jet ? Paid for by the money of another con woman. The woman Leviev said was his ex, who assured Fjellhøy he was a standing guy? One of the three women he had defrauded in Finland before he was convicted and imprisoned there in 2015, who was still dating him for reasons that remain unclear (she refused to participate in the film). Even Simon Leviev’s name was a dodge; the “Simon

“It’s not just catfishing – it’s catfishing on a whole new level,” Morris told the Guardian. “There aren’t the red flags that you think there are in these stories.”

“We’re all a bit guilty of gold plating our lives, whether it’s on Instagram or whatever,” she added. “But Simon, when you meet him, it all comes together.” For Fjellhøy and the two other women who tell their stories in the film – Pernilla Sjoholm, from Sweden, and Ayleen Charlotte from Amsterdam – as well as others who didn’t come forward, “it’s almost like they walk into a Truman Show, playing himself for them, where he has a bodyguard, he actually flies in a private jet,” Morris said.

For most of its first half, the nearly two-hour film weaves Fjellhøy’s first-person narrative with that of Sjoholm, who met Leivev on Tinder in March 2018. Their relationship was initially romantic but turned into in a deep friendship; Leviev took Sjoholm on trips to Mykonos, Rome and other places with other Tinder dates, and the two messaged steadily for eight months. While Leviev partied lavishly with Sjoholm, Fjellhøy sought, at his request, London flats to rent together. After three months of dating, she received disturbing photos of Leviev and his blood-covered bodyguard, along with a demand for $25,000 – according to Leviev, his haters were tracking his credit card payments. Fjellhøy had no reason to doubt that her boyfriend would be good for the money, and who else was closer to him? She took out credit cards, loans, and more loans for more demands, as Leviev repeatedly assured her that payment would come the next day, and then the next day.

This was not the case. Fjellhøy had been cheated, fallout that rains throughout the film’s second half, as she bonds with reporters from Norwegian newspaper VG, and eventually Sjoholm and Charlotte, to unravel Leviev’s long history of scams dating back as a teenager in Israel. . (VG’s investigative piece, containing messages, voice notes and an in-film video, was released in 2019.) Losing money and credit was bad enough, but losing the man she thought caring about her – the boyfriend who sent her roses and adoring voice notes, the one who took a surprise last-minute trip to Oslo to see her – was a worse punch. The scam was as much emotional as it was financial.

Leviev “wasn’t some kind of James Bond character with these girls,” Morris said. “Yes, he would send them flowers, and he would remember their anniversary, and he would be really nice, but it wasn’t like they were getting anything. He wasn’t giving them designer handbags or amazing vacations. He was just a very consistent and loving boyfriend. The normal red flags or hiccups — no texting back, ghosting, lack of interest — didn’t apply to Simon, and the bar for dating was so low that that in itself was remarkable. “Simon was the perfect man for these women,” Morris said, “and it wasn’t in a material way. It was in an emotional way.

Cecilie Fjellhoy. ‘He [Simon] to this magnetism. Photography: Courtesy of Netflix

“We all grew up on this diet of romantic comedy movies and the idea of ​​finding the love of your life, your prince charming, to take you away,” said Morris, who works in classic Hollywood romance music videos in the movie. . “I really think Simon is playing on that.”

The final section of the film, which simply must be seen to be fully appreciated and goes beyond the scope of VG’s story, operates in the testimony and reward of Charlotte, who dated Leviev for 18 months and him also loaned large sums which were never repaid. Morris stitches together VG’s investigations, Charlotte’s memories, and Leviev’s threatening voice and text messages to reveal a vindictive pathological liar ultimately hooked by his past. It was thanks to the three women that he was arrested in 2019 in Greece and extradited to Israel; he was sentenced to 15 months in prison on charges of theft and fraud which he ignored in 2011, and released after five months due to his good behavior.

Simon Leviev, as he still goes by his legal name (his now private Instagram account, @simon_leviev_official, currently has 97,500 followers, bot percentage unknown), declined to take part in the film officially, although he responded to WhatsApp messages from Morris’ team. There were “back and forth between us and various attorneys he had employed for us to speak,” Morris said, but “an interview never materialized.” Leviev, however, sent voice notes which are included in the film in which he denies all allegations of cheating on the women and threatens legal action.

Despite its name, The Tinder Swindler isn’t really about Tinder, or a warning about the dangers of online dating. “We’re not saying people shouldn’t use dating apps,” Morris said. “We’re not saying people should be more careful than they are, because most people are careful.” Instead, the message is more one of perseverance through gaslighting, financial ruin, and fear of judgment. Fjellhøy, Sjoholm and Charlotte knew the backlash and skepticism that would come from speaking out, but “they were brave enough to say that actually the only real way to get justice is to report it,” said Morris.

This justice, if not in prison or in financial restitution, can be made public. The first thing you do with a Tinder match is Google them, says Fejllhøy, who is still on the app, at the end of the film. And the results for Simon Leviev? Pages upon pages of articles unraveling his lies.

About Hubert Lee

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