In the latest Netflix true-crime documentary ‘The Tinder Swindler’, three women recount their terrifying encounter with a professional con man they met on a dating app.
While it is easy to point fingers in a cyber-fraud case, ‘The Tinder Swindler’ raises a new question that needs to be addressed. According to The Guardian’s Emma Brockes, “The first surprise of The Tinder Swindler, Netflix’s hit film and the only documentary to have topped its global most-watched list, is that anyone is still using Tinder”
Love is necessary for human survival, and corporations have capitalized on this innate desire over time, exploiting it for financial and stock profits. They create platforms for people from all walks of life to find ‘love.’ Although this appears to be a fair trade that will result in a happily ever after fairytale ending, it is not always the case. The romantic experience abruptly ends in terrifying scenarios in which users of these apps gnash their teeth and cry their eyes out in regret as they suffer the horrible consequences of wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the company’s operations continue unaffected; it’s business as usual.
In this win-or-lose online dating scene, the latter is the case for Cecilie Fjellhy, Pernilla Sjöholm, and Ayleen Charlotte Koeleman — three of the many women who say they were duped by Simon Leviev, an attractive Israeli man who poses as a billionaire’s son to a diamond Mogul. The false image, persona, and eccentric lifestyle that Simon Leviev, an alias for Shimon Hayut, portrays on Tinder entices three women in their thirties looking for emotional connections into something more sinister and cruel that will cost them thousands of dollars.
“This was an emotional con,” Natalie Remøe Hansen, one of the investigative journalists, comments during an interview within the documentary’s runtime. The tinder swindler does not just demand an outrageous amount of money. First, he builds an intimate relationship with his victims, then he lavishes thousands of dollars, taking them to five-star hotels, dinners, and exquisite vacations to cajole his current victim into thinking he is more than capable of refunding the huge sum of money he will later ask to borrow due to security threats from his ‘enemies’.
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For a brief moment, it is difficult to comprehend what you are witnessing. Still, it’s difficult to believe that countless women and men fall victim to emotional manipulations, financial quandaries, and tragic stories while looking for love on dating apps in real life.
While these dating apps claim to have no responsibility for people’s actions on their platforms, the never-ending scams built on online romance show that love sites are a significant target for internet fraudsters because that is where people, especially women, are most vulnerable and susceptible to sugar-coated lies. As a result, the question of who should be more responsible in online dating arises. Are the users falling in love? Or the dating apps tasked with making sure that’s all they get. How does one become responsible with an emotion as explosive as love if it is the users, as Tinder and other dating apps clearly state in their lengthy terms and conditions?
But, if we challenge dating apps and demand that they do more to protect their users from fraud, what do we say to the banks that these transactions pass through, as well as every other system involved?
No matter how much we dance around the issue, at the end of the day, the responsibility inevitably falls on the users, the choices they make, and the risks they are willing to take to live out a happily ever after fantasy or the complete opposite.
But, as the ostensibly progressive society that we claim to be, are we OK with this?