What would make seemingly sane women loan massive sums of money over the web to potential lovers? That’s one of the questions raised by the new Netflix sensation “The Tinder Swindler,” a documentary that centers on Shimon Hayut, an Israeli internet “love bomber” who pretended to be the son of Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev to scam women out of their money with excessive displays of wealth.
The ruse worked something like this: appear debonair on Tinder, dressed in Louis Vuitton loafers, fashionable sunglasses, on a private plane. Use this persona to snare attractive, intelligent women — in some cases, Scandinavian blondes — into his web of gourmet dining, private jets and texting platitudes until it comes time to ask for money.
Few references are made to religion or Judaism, but being Israeli, this villain raises the old “but is it good for the Jews?” issue. At one point, to extract sympathy, Hayut tells a victim that he was tortured in a South African prison “because he was Jewish.” A bizarre strategy for creating romance, for sure.
“Love bombing” is a tactic used by manipulators who show excessive attention (at least initially), with good listening skills to make the victim feel obligated and sympathetic. Hayut’s one-liner texts don’t seem particularly personal or creative. “I miss you,” he tells one woman. “I want to move in with you.” “Will you be my girlfriend?” Still, this approach seems to work.
Then there’s the Ponzi scheme: extract thousands from victims, then use that money to ensnare the next by taking them to Greece or an upscale restaurant where the waiters all fawn over her, and Hayut orders everything on the menu. Rinse and repeat.
FBI statistics suggest that, when it comes to romance scams, the most vulnerable victim population is women over 50 who have experienced a divorce or loss of a spouse. One local Jewish grandmother told me that, against the advice of her family, she sent more than $400,000 to a man she had only met online, who had begged her for help to “save his business.” Another local Jewish attorney was bilked out of a seven-figure sum by a love match on Jdate.
But while the Netflix documentary raises many questions, it is seemingly short on answers. For example, was Hayut fairly punished for his crimes? Do women still date him? Did he admit guilt? Without getting into spoilers, let’s just say that a local reporter makes a visit to an apartment in a religious neighborhood in Bnei Brak, meeting Hayut’s mother, who is not exactly a “charmer” herself.
Local reactions ranged from incredulity to outrage. Jerry Katz said, “I can’t believe [Hayut] got out of jail so fast. He should have been put under the jail and made to pay back all the money.”
Katz’s wife, Martha Jo, exclaimed, “He was so disgusting! Being Jewish made it even worse. Shocking to see he is still living high and mighty. Tinder should ban him. He should be in jail for life!”