Shimon Hayut: ‘swindler’ or celebrity?
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
Cecilie Fjellhøy thought she had found the fairytale romance she’d always wanted. The man of her dreams, coincidentally the son of billionaire diamond mogul Lev Leviev, swept her off her feet after they met on Tinder. But Netflix’s The Tinder Swindler details how Simon Leviev— real name Shimon Hayut— transformed from Prince Charming to Beast right before her eyes.
The documentary, released in early February, chronicled how Shimon Hayut allegedly conned countless women in a Ponzi-scheme-style romance scam. Over a period of several years, he met women on Tinder and seduced them with expensive dates — clearly feeling that looks or personality alone wouldn’t do the trick. He then quickly claimed not to be able to use his credit cards because he had mysterious “enemies'' tracking his movements. Hayut made his partners fear for his life, sending them pictures of him and his bodyguard covered in blood after supposed attacks so that they would take out loans worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on his behalf, funding his escape to safety. Of course, there were no mysterious “enemies'' ready to jump out at Hayut and no spies tracking his every move and expense; he used the money he had defrauded from one girlfriend to woo, and then con, another, and so on and so forth, seemingly ad infinitum.
Three of Hayut’s alleged victims— Fjellhøy, Pernilla Sjöholm and Ayleen Charlotte— all relinquished their anonymity to participate in the documentary and warn against Hayut and other romance scammers. The programme, viewed by an estimated 23 million people in its first week alone, seemed sure to spark public outrage, pressure the police into actually doing their jobs, get Hayut arrested, and grant the women the happy endings they so needed and deserved. And that’s what happened, right?
Not quite. In reality, the women who participated in the documentary received a torrent of online abuse, being told that they were “stupid” for falling victim to a seasoned fraudster who targeted them, preyed on their vulnerabilities, and manipulated their feelings for him. Since Hayut hasn’t been convicted for the alleged offences, his victims are still paying off the debts he forced them to accumulate. Shortly after The Tinder Swindler was released, the women resorted to setting up a GoFundMe to help settle their debts of $600,000, an amount that barely scratches the surface of Hayut’s con: he is estimated to have taken $10 million from women in seven different countries.
Meanwhile, as his victims suffer abuse and financial desperation, Hayut not only continues to live a life of luxury with his new girlfriend, but has been awarded celebrity status by the media. Nearly a month after the documentary’s release, Shimon Hayut’s name is still smeared across the tabloids. If the fetching rhyming nickname wasn’t enough, the ‘Tinder Swindler’ has run business and personal success workshops (those who can’t do, teach, I suppose) and released T-shirts emblazoned with catchy slogans like ‘if she really loves you she’ll take out a $20,000 loan for you’, bringing a whole new, albeit rather literal, meaning to the phrase ‘say it with your chest’. Oh, and just in case you’d like your very own threatening voice messages from the Tinder Swindler himself, you can find him on Cameo. Hayut has also reportedly signed with a talent manager and is rumoured to be in talks to start a podcast, write a book, and even star in his own dating show. Of course, he denies all of the allegations, despite the multitude of incriminating evidence and the fact that he previously served two years in a Finnish prison for crimes almost identical to those he is now being accused of.
Besides the disturbing thought of even one woman flocking to apply for a show where a serial romance scammer is the prize, what’s even more worrying is that The Tinder Swindler was meant to expose a dangerous predator, but instead we risk turning him into a celebrity. It’s ludicrous that a man accused and previously convicted of exploiting so many women has been given the opportunity to profit from the accusations made against him. If the law won’t bring him to justice, the least the public could do is give the women still burdened by the aftermath of his antics the solace that Hayut’s reputation has been irreparably damaged by his actions. However, it’s sadly clear that we’d rather get to see some new on-screen drama unfold instead.