Culture Pick: Netflix’s ‘Tinder Swindler’ examines the dangers of online dating

Maddy Reda | @maddyreda1, Staff Reporter

Private jets, lavish dinners and star-studded hotels crawling with celebrities sound like the makings of a whirlwind fairy-tale romance and the perfect lure. 

Netflix’s new true-crime documentary “Tinder Swindler” takes audiences on a luxurious trip across Europe to meet a master con artist who presents himself on Tinder as an eligible, wealthy bachelor looking for love. 

Director Felicity Morris, the producer behind Netflix’s “Don’t F**k with Cats,” tells the story of Shimon Hayut, a 31-year-old man who has been flying under law enforcement’s radar for nearly a decade and luring women into his Ponzi scheme with empty promises of fast cars, glamorous parties and luxury vacations.

According to the FBI website, Ponzi schemes promise high financial returns or dividends not available through traditional investments. They are a cyclical, recurring type of fraud in which money from a new investor is used to pay off earlier investors.

Hayut used dozens of aliases, crafting elaborate stories about being targeted by organized-crime groups to convince his girlfriends to establish credit lines for him under their own names. Once Hayut gained access to their bank accounts, he would vanish, leaving one woman at the mercy of angry creditors as he moved on to the next one.

In the documentary, Hayut posed as a billionaire under the alias of Simon Leviev, claiming to be the son of billionaire diamond mogul Lev Leviev

According to Metro, Hayut is estimated to have stolen $10 million from women around the globe as he moved from one to the other, using their money to fund his jet-setting lifestyle.

The documentary follows Cecilie Fjellhøy, Pernilla Sjoholm and Ayleen Charlotte, three of Hayut’s victims who quickly found themselves drowning in a turbulent tsunami of lies and debt.

During Hayut’s time as Simon Leviev, he frequented Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, where he met Fjellhøy, Sjoholm and Charlotte, respectively.

Hayut used fear to control his unsuspecting girlfriends after establishing relationships with them, convincing them that they needed to financially support Hayut so that he could “travel in secrecy” to stay safe from hit men and competitors in the diamond industry.   

“I didn’t have a big friendship circle, and he gave me the attention I needed,” Fjellhøy said in the documentary.

The documentary features hundreds of photographs, texts and voice memos from Hayut, who would send pictures of his alleged bodyguard covered in fake blood to gain the victim’s trust and make them believe he was in danger because his “enemies” were tracking his credit card usage.

Hayut’s well-traveled lifestyle made it hard for federal agents to keep track of his spending and movements.

Fjellhøy reportedly loaned Hayut $350,000 over the course of their relationship, believing that he could pay her back because of the expensive lifestyle she witnessed. Little did Fjellhøy know that her vacations and dates were being paid for by the last victim, and she would be footing the bills of the next woman that Hayut was grooming.

“I felt that I was supporting him,” Fjellhøy said to CBS News. “And it’s difficult when everyone is saying, ‘Oh, if someone asked me to help them, I would have run the other way.’ But what kind of person would I be?”

Upon the discovery of Hayut’s scheme and her crippling debt, Fjellhøy’s mental health deteriorated and checked herself into an inpatient center due to the immense financial stress she was facing. 

Hayut’s manipulation tactics were calculated to the point that he swindled many of his victims without having to enter a romantic relationship with them, like Sjoholm. Sjoholm considered Hayut to be a close friend and gave him over $45,000, which he spent on lavish dinners and plane tickets.

Hayut is currently roaming the world as a free man despite the numerous allegations of financial and emotional abuse by women from all over the globe.

Hayut, who fled Israel in 2017, was extradited back to the country in October 2019. He was released from prison early in May 2020 after serving only five months of his 15-month sentence for several fraud-related offenses.

He has opened up to news outlets and his social media followers after the documentary was released to share his side of the story, alleging that the entire documentary was fake.

“In truth, it was a made-up movie,” Hayut said in an interview with Birmingham Live. “I was just a single guy that wanted to meet some girls on Tinder.”

While Hayut has been permanently banned from Tinder, he is reportedly charging his fans upward of $200 on Cameo, a website where fans can pay a fee to get a personalized video message from their favorite celebrities.

While Hayut continues to flaunt his supposed wealth and new girlfriend on social media, his countless victims are still digging themselves out of the crippling debt that he pushed them into.

“The only thing we can do is get his face out there,” Sjoholm said in the documentary. “If people know who he is and recognize his face, he can’t do this anymore.”

Questions? Email the culture desk at culture@cw.ua.edu.