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Tinder Swindler: Netflix film on Israeli scammer sparks social media frenzy

Shimon Hayut is accused of stealing around $10m from Tinder Dates who believed he was the son of a billionaire
Shimon Hayut used the dating app to manipulate victims into wiring thousands of dollars at a time to fund his lavish lifestyle (AFP/Tore Kristiansen)

In a testament to the power of Netlix's word-of-mouth marketing strategy, social media has been aflame with chatter about its latest documentary offering.

The Tinder Swindler tells the stories of several victims of an alleged Israeli fraudster who convinced women that he was in a long-term relationship with them only to manipulate them into wiring him huge sums of money, often obtained by credit, to fund his lavish lifestyle.

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Born into an ultra-orthodox Jewish family headed by a rabbi father from Bnei Brak in Israel, Shimon Hayut pretended to be the son of Israeli diamond mogul and billionaire, Lev Leviev.

Released on 2 February, the almost two-hour-long docufilm describes how Hayut was able to steal an estimated $10m from his victims.

Posing as Simon "Leviev", Hayut would whisk his Tinder matches away on a private jet leaving them with the impression he was as rich as he purported to be.

What they did not know was that Hayut was funding his lifestyle with money he had obtained from his other victims, in what amounted to a version of a Ponzi scheme.

The Israeli would then tell the victim that he needed money transfers to avoid being tracked by unnamed "enemies" in the diamond industry, who were "after him", even producing apparently staged photos of an attack on him and his bodyguards.

While Hayut continues to live a lavish lifestyle, his victims, many of whom took out loans, continue to live with the consequences of the con.

Internet reaction

In a reaction not seen since Joe Exotic became the breakout star of the Netflix documentary series Tiger King, Hayut seems to have captivated audiences online for the audacious nature of his crimes, his seeming lack of remorse and the feeling that he has not been brought to justice.

Israeli authorities handed down a 15-month sentence to Hayut for his offences but he was released after just five.

After disappearing off Instagram in the immediate aftermath of the Netflix release in early February, the Israeli reappeared with 200,000 new followers.

Reactions to the documentary on social media centred on the perceived naivety of the women Hayut defrauded and the apparent fact that Hayut continues to live a luxurious lifestyle, perhaps due to him luring in new victims for his scams.

Others speculated that Hayut's background as a white-passing male allowed him to avoid scrutiny from the authorities in a way a person of colour would not have been able to.

One of the swindler's most memorable lines in the film; “Send money now! My enemies are after me,” has been a particular favourite for social media users who have turned the phrase into a meme. 

GoFundMe page has been set up for the victims who appeared in the film and at the time of publication, donations of around $177,000 had been made to help them pay off debts they accrued taking out loans to help Hayut.

Their story was originally reported by Norwegian news outlet Verdens Gang (The Course of the World) in 2019 and journalists from the outlet appear in Tinder Swindler.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.