What’s the worst date you’ve ever been on? Did it involve boring conversation and bad breath? Or did it involve you getting scammed out of a quarter of a million dollars? For the women of The Tinder Swindler, the bar for “bad date” may be a little bit higher. The new Netflix documentary tells the story of a notorious conman who allegedly used the Tinder dating app to live a life of luxury while defrauding women across Europe.
So who is the Tinder Swindler?
The so-called Tinder Swindler is Shimon Hayut, a convicted fraudster born in Israel. Hayut used dating apps to meet multiple women, then established lines of credit and loans in their names, ultimately leaving them holding the bills.
If he was already convicted of fraud, how did he manage to get away with it again?
Like a demonic Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can, Hayut appeared happy to jump from one identity to another in order to keep his scheme running. He was convicted of fraud in Finland under his birth name but carried out his Tinder con under the name Simon Leviev, claiming to be the son of wealthy diamond magnate Lev Leviev. Once his name was revealed in a VG expose, he supposedly took the name David Sharon to evade the authorities.
What kind of scam was it?
Hayut apparently followed a pattern: He would match with a woman on Tinder, take her on a costly and impressive first date (in the case of Cecilie Schrøder Fjellhøy, a trip on a private jet), and slowly build their relationship while flying around the world and secretly dating other women. His accusers claim that, at a certain point, Hayut would confide in them that he was worried a nebulous group of his “enemies” was just around the corner. Eventually, he would send a photo of his bleeding bodyguard, allegedly injured by these enemies, to incite further concern. Once that groundwork had been laid, he would urgently message each “girlfriend” to say that his credit card could not be used for security reasons and ask her to open a new one under her name for him to use. From there, he was off to the races.
How much money did he steal?
An estimated $10 million, according to The Times of Israel. Hayut would evade repayment by cajoling, threatening and otherwise stalling his victims: He made a habit of sending increasingly unhinged WhatsApp voice messages, even sending one to the filmmakers when he learned about The Tinder Swindler’s existence.
How did he get caught?
Eventually, one of Hayut’s long-term girlfriends, Ayleen Koeleman, saw the VG piece and turned the tables on him. After the story went viral, Hayut had to take a break from jet-setting and lay low. He turned to Koeleman, the only woman who seemed to trust him, for help — but she was way ahead of him. Koeleman eventually convinced him that she could sell his designer-brand clothes to make some cash and simply kept the money, swindling the Tinder Swindler herself. After some quick detective work, she deduced that Hayut was flying to Greece and gave his flight information to the authorities. He was arrested in 2019 and sentenced to 15 months in prison for fraud in Israel soon after.
Now that he’s in jail, is Tinder safe?
Hayut was released from prison after only five months and Tinder has confirmed that he has no known active profiles or aliases on its service. Additionally, he has been permanently banned from the site. But at the end of the documentary, we see Hayut continuing the same lavish lifestyle he led before prison, along with a new girlfriend — although that’s never seemed to stop him from swiping right before.
Just over an hour into the new documentary The Tinder Swindler, viewers glimpse the roots of the film’s subject, Simon Leviev, alleged dating app con artist. While Leviev claims to be the son of Lev Leviev, the international king of diamonds, to his romance ponzi scheme victims, the truth is far less glamorous. Leviev (born Shimon Hayut) grew up on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, in the Ramat Elchanan neighborhood of Bnei Brak, an area described by journalist Amit Youlzari as “one of the most poor neighborhoods” in Israel. When the documentary visits his last known address, a woman identifying herself as Leviev’s mother appears on screen. She explains that she’s had “absolutely no contact” with her son since he turned 18. “He is not Hayut anymore,” she says, suggesting Leviev’s relationship with his parents dissolved the moment he reached adulthood.
Netflix’s new podcast The Making of a Swindler, hosted by Tinder Swindler director Felicity Morris and producer Bernadette Higgins, however, has uncovered a far more complicated history. This week’s newest episode, “The Rabbi’s Son,” proves Leviev was at least working with his father, Rabbi Yohanan Hayut, as recently as 2017. The resulting story — filled with subterfuge and a trip to the police station — questions whether the scam apple falls very far from the tree in the Hayut family.
Who is the Tinder Swindler’s dad?
Leviev’s dad was the rabbi for Israel’s national airline, El Al, for 15 years. Hayut had a plum social perch among the religious elite and rubbed elbows with the “chief rabbis of Israel,” as Youlzari told The Making of a Swindler.
Is there any drama around Simon Leviev’s dad?
The Making of a Swindler introduces us to Rabbi Raymond Badush, an Israeli-born rabbi who now lives in Brooklyn and handles the portfolio of a large charity in New York called Congregation Ahavat Shalom.
Starting in 2012, Hayut began asking Badush for help raising money to address some family issues, including caring for his ailing mother and his brother’s large family. Badush obliged without question due to Hayut’s reputation, and a years’ long friendship began. Hayut, Badush emphasized to The Making of a Swindler, would show him the “VIP treatment” every time he visited Israel; “every so often” Hayut also requested more funds to support his relatives.
Then, in June 2017, Hayut came to Badush with a money-making scheme: “A very wealthy family in Europe” would funnel “about half a million dollars” through Badush’s charity, and ultimately into Badush’s hands. Badush’s charity would receive various checks, issued by a Polish bank, from the mystery family, and the charity would give Hayut the same amount of money in turn through checks from their organization. The family would then hand the charity a large donation for all their trouble. We told you — complicated.
In hindsight, there are two glaring red flags in this plan: The charitable family in question was the Leviev family, and the company name on the checks was the Tapiro Group. As The Tinder Swindler reveals, Leviev pretended to be part of the billionaire diamond Leviev family during his alleged ponzi scheme, and he previously used the alias Mordechai Tapiro.
Was the Tinder Swindler’s dad involved in his scams?
Hayut has repeatedly denied any accusations of wrongdoing, but The Making of a Swindler reveals a lot of suspicious details about the “charitable” check swap. The key to Badush’s involvement in the swap was that Hayut would not cash the charity’s checks until the Tapiro Group checks were cashed in the Ahavat Shalom bank account. Otherwise, Badush’s charity would be out a damaging amount of money. Still… Hayut attempted to cash his checks. Badush quickly froze the account and asked his friend to explain.
Hayut claimed he would do an immediate wire transfer, Badush recalled. “So, he sends me a screenshot of a computer screen showing a transfer from some bank in Luxembourg to our account in New York. I check on my account, and it’s not there,” he said. Days of back and forth followed, until Hayut offered to introduce his worried friend to someone in the Leviev family.
The Tinder Swindler then attempted to convince Badush that the Polish checks were good, and that “more than $10 million” was, in fact, in the account in Warsaw. Hayut also promised, “The checks themselves are absolutely fine. Our account made sure it’s fine. There is no doubt. It will be transferred.” Badush recorded the lengthy conversation, which you can listen to in full on the podcast. Badush later learned from an actual Leviev that Simon had no relation to the famous family. Badush then suggested to Hayut that Simon Leviev may be a con artist, but Hayut countered, claiming that Leviev was a “trustworthy man” from a “well-respected family” (meaning the Levievs, not his own family of the Hayuts).
At last, Badush learned of Leviev and Hayut’s true connection when the owner of a cash-exchange business called him. Hayut had gone to the businessman to cash one of Badush’s $100,000 checks (knowing the charity account was frozen) — and the cash exchange gave him the money without confirming future payment from Badush. When asked why he would fulfill such an exorbitant request without any reassurances, the man said he simply “trusted” someone of Hayut’s social stature. During the conversation, the man told Badush that Leviev and Hayut were father and son. “Betrayal, betrayal. That’s the word I would use. Defiled. Used,” Badush said of the situation on the podcast. Badush took his story to the press. He was eventually called to the police station to give a statement and “answer some questions.”
Is Leviev still in contact with his family?
Hayut has publicly distanced himself from his son and condemned Leviev’s behavior. After the Badush fiasco went public, Hayut’s lawyer released a statement saying, “My client denies any and all complaints about fraud and or money laundering. My client never cooperated with the son’s false representations because he did not know about them at all. And in retrospect, after knowing about them, there was nothing he could do as this concerns an adult son who is responsible for his own actions.” Hayut also claimed that he “went to some effort” to confirm the Polish bank was legitimate and “only later discovered the Polish checks were not usable.” It is still entirely possible Hayut is yet another victim of his son’s alleged fraudulent schemes and lies.
Currently, no charges have been filed against Hayut over Badush’s claims. Investigator Hani Giladi declined to comment on any possible investigations around Hayut or Leviev on the podcast. But, as we’ve all learned watching The Tinder Swindler, it’s only a matter of time until more secrets come out.
Tinder Swindler says he is not a swindler
I was just a single guy that wanted to meet some girls on Tinder,” Leviev tells Inside Edition in his first interview since the Netflix release, airing in two parts on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22. “I am not a Tinder Swindler.”
In another clip on Entertainment Weekly, he says, “They present it as a documentary but in truth, it’s like a complete made-up movie.”
Leviev, who’s joined by his girlfriend in the interview, also says, “I’m the biggest gentleman in the world.”
The alleged swindler disguised himself under various aliases but is widely recognized as Leviev, who allegedly claimed he worked in a dangerous diamond business and was the son of billionaire Israeli diamond oligarch Lev Leviev.
Though he was convicted of fraud, theft, and forgery and sentenced to 15 months in prison in December 2019, he was released early only five months later.
He was also banned from Tinder after the release of the documentary.
“We have conducted internal investigations and can confirm Simon Leviev is no longer active on Tinder under any of his known aliases,” Tinder said in a statement to Variety.
In the day before the documentary was released, Tinder also added new guidelines entitled “Romance Scams: How to Protect Yourself Online,” while also noting that scammers use the platform to prey on “vulnerable” people “looking for love,” as reported by The Washington Post.
Though Leviev is no longer allowed to use Tinder, he is still active on Instagram with a new page. He said in an Instagram video last week that his previous profile was “hacked.”
He also set his sights on Hollywood. According to Entertainment Tonight, “he has signed on with a talent manager, Gina Rodriguez of Gitoni Inc., in hopes of pursuing a career in the entertainment industry.” The publication also adds that he is “looking into a potential podcast, hosting a dating show, and/or writing a book.”
Meanwhile, Netflix is eyeing to turn the hit documentary into a full-fledged movie, according to Variety. Sources tell the publication that “the conversation is in early stages, and that the tone of a potential film is still being worked out.”
It’s unclear if Leviev, who declined to participate in the original documentary, will be involved with the film.
His two-part interview with Inside Edition airs Monday and Tuesday.
Where are the victims of the Simon Leviev?
Instagram account @simon_leviev_officical
Social fans: 1.4 Million
EST Net Worth: $500 K – $1 million