The Tinder Swindler
is Netflix’s newest true crime sensation du jour, an equal parts shocking and infuriating account of how an incredibly duplicitous sociopath charmed his way across Europe in the back half of the 2010s, conning numerous women out of vast sums of money. Simon Leviev, real name Shimon Hayut, is an Israeli-born shyster whose fiendishly complex cons revolved primarily around deep-seated emotional and psychological manipulation of women who were searching for love and understanding. Posing as the son of a billionaire diamond magnate, Leviev treated women to elaborate and lavish dates that were funded by other women he was currently swindling, effectively building a personal romantic Ponzi scheme that could only be sustained with a steady flow of new victims. It’s unknown just how many lives this man torpedoed in the process, but it’s estimated he took in more than $10 million over the course of a few years.
What we do know, by the end of director Felicity Morris’ documentary, is that true justice for Leviev’s crimes has been frustratingly out of reach for his victims. And sadly, this ultimately shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us—guys like “Simon Leviev” always manage to return to their status quo and lavish lifestyles, even after some token punishment. Taking advantage of the leniency of society, their own pop-cultural notoriety, and the fact that our culture actively rewards such sociopathic behavior with countless new ways to make a buck, the likes of Simon Leviev consistently end up on top.
And as such, the righteous tone of justified revenge in The Tinder Swindler can’t help but often ring hollow. The documentary tacitly promises that these unfortunate women will manage to “turn the tables” on the man who ruined their lives, and goes out of its way to frame relatively small acts of petty vengeance as somehow fulfilling them after the fact. But it’s all smoke and mirrors in the end—Leviev is a free man cruising around Israel in Ferraris, having not even bothered to change his name or make any attempt to hide the shameless fruits of his criminal enterprises, even after the Netflix documentary went live. The women he defrauded in Europe? They’re still repaying massive debts he racked up in their name, unable to even rely on the justice system to assist them in escaping from financial burdens that were never their fault. They’ll be paying for their dalliances with Leviev for the rest of their lives. How can one examine this status quo at the end of the documentary and not be consumed with disgust?
The smug asshole is rarely seen without designer sunglasses, because he’s a smug asshole.
Why is Leviev a free man today? Well, after finally being arrested in Greece in the summer of 2019 for use of a fake passport, he was extradited to Israel, where he stood trial on a number of charges including theft, fraud and forgery—charges from 2011, completely unrelated to the cons he had been engaging in throughout Europe for most of the decade. He was ultimately sentenced to 15 months in prison, but was released after serving only 5 months of jail time, a beneficiary of programs intended to discharge inmates in light of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This effectively set him free to roam (and presumably con) in Israel once again, where he has apparently resided ever since, while avoiding any repercussions for the actual events depicted in The Tinder Swindler. In the days after the release of Netflix’s documentary, he briefly made his Instagram profile—now with more than 200,000 followers—private, but it’s now once again visible for the world to see. You can feel the arrogance radiating from it as Leviev thumbs his nose at his own victims and offers “business and personal success workshops,” in which the man might very well be literally teaching others the tricks of his conning trade.
I wonder how much he charges to learn the secrets of becoming a more highly effective smug asshole
The Tinder Swindler, meanwhile, is desperate to communicate some feeling of justice or empowerment on behalf of its victims, and grasps at straws in the process in an effort to placate an audience that expects to see at least some form of vindication. Victim Ayleen Charlotte, who somehow managed to date Leviev for an agonizing 14 months, all while he was in the process of defrauding countless other women, relays how she eventually became aware of his scam and cooked up a plan to sell trunks full of Leviev’s designer clothes online as a way of recouping some of the funds that he had drained from her over all that time. But the $10,000 or so she ultimately makes from selling Gucci sweatshirts pales in comparison with the $140,000 she readily admits he conned from her in the documentary. And yet, her scheme is presented with a puckish “turnabout is fair play” whimsy that seems to imply it has somehow rectified not only Charlotte’s crippling financial burden, but also the more than a year of her life she lost being psychologically manipulated by a sociopath. It doesn’t feel like it should need to be said, but apparently it does: Ayleen Charlotte did not “win” this exchange. In no uncertain terms, Simon Leviev “won” in the sense that he got literally everything he wanted from her, and has faced no consequences for it. If that makes you angry, good—you should be angry that men like Leviev manage to get away with this sort of thing. The women, on the other hand, have to ask for charity on GoFundMe in an effort to get on with their lives.
The documentarians, meanwhile, seem oddly unconcerned—interested, perhaps, more in a salacious story than in justice. At no point in The Tinder Swindler is a law enforcement representative from anywhere on the European continent interviewed, despite the fact that Leviev is theoretically wanted or under investigation in seven or more countries. Perhaps police would be unwilling to speak on the subject of an active investigation, but the filmmakers also choose not to consult with independent legal, justice, or security experts to provide any perspective on how Leviev was able to avoid charges or arrest, or how victims might potentially be able to bring charges against him in the future. The documentary, in fact, doesn’t seem to even hold onto the slightest hope or ambition that Leviev might ever face additional charges for defrauding these women, or that the women might somehow escape from their own financial ruins. Instead, it seems resigned to the fact that Leviev has already gotten away with it, and we’re instead meant to take solace in the fact that the women are still dating on Tinder, their faith in other members of the human race still somehow remaining intact. The documentary seems to be saying that this story has concluded, its central women “damaged but resilient,” as if their driving goal shouldn’t still be justice. It feels like the audience is being given permission to stop caring.
You’ll have to forgive me if I say that my cynical self would still like a bit more from this story than assurances that the woman who was swindled out of more than $270,000 is still courageously looking for the man of her dreams. She absolutely deserves that right to heal, but she also deserves so much more besides. And if even the documentary about the worst thing that happened in her life doesn’t hold out any hope for justice on her behalf, then how can we conclude anything but the fact that Simon Leviev has won? In the broken world in which we reside, where these sociopathic men live their charmed lives, should we really have expected anything less?
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and he’d very much like to punch Simon Leviev in the nose. You can follow him on Twitter.
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