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February 21, 2022 11:31 am
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Netflix’s ‘The Tinder Swindler’ Looks at an Israeli Con Artist

avatar by Alan Zeitlin

Opinion

The Netflix logo is seen on its office in Los Angeles, California, July 16, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Lucy Nicholson.

An Israeli man originally named Shimon Yehuda Hayut, who changed his name to Simon Leviev, swindled enormous sums of money from women who thought they were dating him or were good friends, according to the new Netflix documentary, “The Tinder Swindler.”

Similar to a Ponzi scheme, he would get money from one woman to spend it on another, and he would fly women on private jets and take them to fancy hotels and tell them they would get an apartment together. He would gain their trust by having a bodyguard and an entourage, and would seem to have wealth.

He allegedly said he was the CEO of a diamond company. But he would claim his enemies were after him and say that his accounts were frozen, and that he needed money for flights and business expenses he would pay back. But when he gave the women checks, they would never clear. The documentary includes voice memos where he made these claims.

Cecilie Fjellhoy thought she’d be stupid if she said “no.”

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A Rolls Royce picked her up to take her on a trip to Bulgaria with a man named Simon.

“It felt like stepping into a movie,” says Fjellhoy in the documentary.

At 28, when Fjellhoy first met him, “Simon” looked stylish and rich, and after dinner at The Four Seasons, he offered to fly her by private jet from London to Bulgaria.

She then learned the man’s ex was coming along on their date, which she found “interesting.”

They slept together, and when she saw marks on his back, he said he’d been falsely imprisoned in South Africa and claimed he was manhandled because he was Jewish.

She thought it might have been a one-night stand, but was hoping for more. He would message her and keep in touch by FaceTime. She went home to Oslo, and he surprised her by flying in, meeting her at a hotel, and asking if she wanted to be his girlfriend.

He asked Fjellhoy to move in with him, but after showing a video where his bodyguard was bloodied, he asked if he could use her credit card and if she could bring him $25,000.

“I was super scared having that amount of cash in my bag,” she said after getting a loan.

She loaned him a large amount of money, and he gave her a check that was supposed to cover things. But he was cold when her bank said they could not cash the check.

“It was like that person on the phone was no longer my boyfriend,” she said. “It was just a darkness.”

When she couldn’t pay what she owed, workers from American Express came to meet with her and asked for a picture of the guy. They told her he was a professional con-man, and that Simon Leviev was one of several names he used. She blocked him, but he had her mother’s number and he left a threatening message on her machine.

Meanwhile, Pernilla Sjoholm had already dated a guy in the diamond business, so when she swiped right on Simon and he offered to book her a flight from Sjoholm to visit him in Amsterdam, she agreed. They decided to only be friends.

He sent Sjoholm the same assault pics he sent Fjellhoy, and asked her to send him money — and she did.

The alleged con-artist had previously been jailed, and told one woman he was a weapons dealer and another that he was in the Mossad.

Israeli police explain in the documentary that he was a fraud since his teens, and changed his name to Simon Leviev. Meanwhile, Sjoholm was owed more than $40,000.

A third woman chronicles how they dated for 14 months, but she found out eventually that he was meeting other women and sending the same pictures to her as he sent to them.

He reportedly wanted to get plastic surgery, but he asked for so much to be done to his face that the doctor refused, saying only a criminal would ask for that much to be done.

“I know how to lie, I can teach you how to lie,” he told the third victim in one message, and threatened her in other messages.

“Simon” was eventually arrested after using the fake name David Sharon. He was sentenced to 15 months for crimes committed in Israel, but released after five months. According to the documentary, he swindled about $10 million from different women, and is now living as a free man in Israel, dating an Israeli model. The film includes a recording of him threatening a lawsuit for defamation against the makers of the documentary, when they asked him to be part of it. He disputes the charges against him.

The documentary is jaw-dropping not only for the fact that he could fool numerous women, but that he’d have such elaborate and sick plans to do so.

The author is a writer based in New York.

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