When your heart's on fire, smoke gets in your eyes

Danger lurks behind the endless possibilities of finding a life partner on an online dating app.

Users often face deception, manipulation, mind control and catfishing, which has become part and parcel of the experience for a significant number of men and women since the advent of dating applications.

This has led to a requirement for all genders to keep their guard up by not allowing their heart to rule the mind, which is of course easier said than done.

It is when you don't keep your heart in check that the nightmare commences and leaves you not just heartbroken but neck-deep in debt to a person you trusted to become your knight in shining armour, very much like the three vulnerable women who found out the hard way in Felicity Morris' riveting Netflix true-crime documentary The Tinder Swindler.

So convincing was Simon Leviev's dashing online persona, which showcased him as a well-heeled son of a billionaire diamond dealer, that he cheated women out of a combined US$10 million (324.6 million baht) after meeting them on the popular dating app Tinder. He wined and dined them with such fanfare that it didn't take long before each fell victim to his charms.

We get to hear candid first-person accounts of his victims, which further raises the question as to how street-smart women can fall prey to Leviev's diabolical control and lies.

Like a movie plot, we see how the perpetrator poses as the son of an Israeli diamond magnate and uses his charming lifestyle to lure victims on the pretence that his life is in danger due to money matters and they are the only people that can financially rescue him from his enemies. By doing this, he sinks his fangs deeper into women's personal and borrowed funds with each new "threat" to his life.

Leviev spins a web of deception so deep that each victim finds herself helpless to his manipulations.

Cecilie Fjellhøy in The Tinder Swindler. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

But there is no Simon Leviev, and thus there is no threat to the false heir who squanders the money he receives from victims to sponsor his luxurious lifestyle and the next woman who comes under his control. He seems unstoppable, spinning a yarn of deceit across multiple cities in Europe.

Director Morris' documentary is not about this con artist but about the conned.

The first of his three victims is the mild-mannered Cecilie Fjellhøy, who fell hook, line and sinker for the smooth-talking, sensitive Leviev, who quickly became the prince charming she had been searching for.

Fjellhøy first set her eyes on Leviev on Tinder in 2018 and was instantly swept off her feet by his good looks, sophistication and success. It was at a coffee invite to a 5-star London hotel where he asked Fjellhøy to join him on a business trip to Bulgaria that same day, which began the downward spiral to the fairytale relationship she had envisioned.

It was here that the manipulation and mind control tactics started, rendering the Norwegian helpless to his persuasive nature.

By the time she discovered it was all a hoax, he had swindled her out of US$250,000 in loans and credit card debts that she had no means of repaying.

The Tinder Swindler is a compelling true-crime documentary, with just the right balance of salaciousness and second-hand indignation to keep the audience engrossed.

I rather enjoyed the manner with which Morris didn't have an interest in probing the psychology of Leviev, which she could have, but instead focused on the women who got conned. In a day and age where children are taught to be cautious of strangers, they opted to believe and care for him.

The most compelling part of the documentary in my opinion isn't the nature of the scam, which works similar to a well-oiled Ponzi scheme, but that despite it all, these women haven't given up on finding love.

Leviev, the subject of the documentary, today is launching a celebrity career, a depressing but inevitable next step I suppose for such a despicable character who should rot in jail.

After the documentary aired, a study revealed that Americans have lost over $1billion in 2021 alone to "romance scams". I wonder what the figure is for Thailand where women have encountered their fair share of misfortune or at times have even contributed to it.

  • The Tinder Swindler
  • Starring Kristoffer Kumar, Cecilie Fjellhøy, Pernilla Sjöholm
  • Directed by Felicity Morris
  • Now streaming on Netflix
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