By now, most of us have cringed and gasped as we watched multiple women around the world get scammed out of their life savings and plunged into debt by an evil genius con artist. If you’re still catching up, we’re talking about Netflix’ new documentary ‘The Tinder Swindler’, which tells the story of a man by the (false) name of Simon Leviev, who invented an elaborate scheme in which each woman he conned out of large amounts of money was subsidizing his lavish lifestyle and fancy dates for his next victim.
Leviev presented himself as the rich businessman son of a large diamond-manufacturing company he actually has no relationship to. He met women online and took them on luxurious dates in his private jet, developed relationships and emotional bonds with them, and then eventually asked to borrow large sums of cash because “his enemies” were after him and he couldn’t use his credit cards because they could be traced. He would then fake bank transactions showing that he had paid the women back. When his facade would start to fall apart, he’d cut off contact and move on to the next woman.
These women were intelligent, rational people…who simply made the mistake of falling in love with a person who turned out to be an illusion. If you’re a part of the world of online dating, you might have watched slack-jawed or read incredulously about his antics and asked yourself, could this happen to me? “Leviev” did do one good thing: He made the world aware of the dangers of romance scams. Many people fall victim to such schemes every year, but most people are unaware that this is even a real danger. Now we know! Thanks, Simon…?
There are a few things you can do to make yourself swindler-proof so that you can enjoy your online dating adventures without worrying about whether you’re being taken for a ride. Here are a few tips:
Learn to recognize signs of romance fraud
Romance fraud schemes typically follow a similar sequence of steps. Being aware of and watching out for them can keep you safe.
Step one: The perpetrator creates a profile that makes them seem wealthy, powerful, and high-status (Cross, 2022).
Step two: They make grand romantic gestures early on (otherwise known as “love bombing”) and they try to accelerate the process of building a relationship, moving very quickly towards being a couple and discussing a future together (Cross, 2022). At this stage, it may seem too good to be true. That’s because it is.
Step three: Oh no! It’s an emergency, and you’re the only one who can help! Of course, the only way to help in this kind of emergency is to lend them money. Lots of it. Maybe they were “arrested overseas”. Maybe they have a medical problem or an unexpected business emergency (Cross, 2022). If this emergency has been preceded by steps one and two, it’s time to start asking some questions. Some rich and powerful people are indeed also just genuine hopeless romantics who make sincere romantic gestures and move quickly. Not everyone who fits this bill is a tinder swindler (although many are probably codependents or love addicts). However, once they pass through steps one and two and then reach step three, it’s time to step back and ask yourself if it’s possible something is amiss. Preferably before you lend them money.
Step four: The “emergency” enters a protracted phase, or perhaps there are repeated “emergencies”. They need more money, and might even ask you to register new credit cards or take out loans in order to provide funding even after you’ve gone into debt (Cross, 2022).
Step five: If you refuse to supply more loans, they may coerce, abuse, or threaten you in order to try to extract more money (Cross, 2022).
Don’t let yourself reach step five! The best precaution you can take is to put the brakes on when you reach step two. Starting a relationship too quickly is rarely sustainable anyways; when it comes to romance, a fire that starts fast is usually extinguished fast. Taking things one day at a time and allowing yourselves plenty of time to get to know one another is both a healthy way to start a relationship and a very good way to protect yourself from good-looking con artists.
Be wary of displays of wealth
Picture this: Your date shows up wearing a Prada jacket, a Rolex, and Gucci shoes. Their outfit is flashy, eye-catching, and obviously cost a LOT of money. If someone goes out of their way to show the world how rich they are, it is possible it’s a facade. It’s not a big chance, but it’s big enough that it should give you pause. This alone does not mean someone is a fraudster, but it does mean you should simply take notice and wait to see if they initiate the five-step process detailed above (Gandhi, 2022). And for goodness’ sake, if this person claims to be from a rich or otherwise prominent family (like Simon Leviev), google them and make sure!
Be cautious about what you post publicly online
Whatever you post publicly on facebook, instagram, or elsewhere on the world wide web can be used to target you. If a scammer has the ability to get to know you through a google search before they get very involved with you and sometimes even before ever talk to you, it makes it easier for them to find out all kinds of information about you and then exploit their knowledge (FBI, N.D.). This is a clever way to manufacture common interests or compatibility, making “coincidences” seem like “fate”. For example, if you make a lot of Insta posts about your obsession with Bonsai trees, a con artist might make a dating profile that also mentions whatever oddly niche interest you have, give you a gift related to it, or coincidentally bring it up early on in conversation with you.
Don’t send compromising photos.
Lots of people like to exchange photos online as they get to know one another…sometimes photos that they might not like their grandmas to see. That’s cool! We don’t judge! However, when it comes to online safety, this might not be the best idea unless you already know the other person very well and have known each other for quite some time. This is because just in case you’re unlucky enough to be a victim of romance fraud, the perpetrator could use sensitive photos of you as blackmail in order to extort you or coerce you into things you wouldn’t normally do.
Prenups and Fraud
When it comes to prenups, there is an entirely different version of romance fraud of which it’s important to be aware, in which one fails to disclose all their assets to their romantic partner while writing a prenup. It is of utmost importance that both partners practice full financial disclosure. Nothing should go unsaid, even if there’s something that one party feels is private and would prefer not to share…like that unpaid credit card debt they’re ashamed of. This isn’t just bad practice or an immoral thing to do, it’s actually required in order for a prenup to be considered valid.
If you or your partner fails to disclose any assets, debt, or future inheritance, the prenup will not hold up in a court of law. This means that in case of divorce, the laws of the state would become your prenup, and they would dictate division of assets as well as both partners’ financial responsibilities and futures. The state laws are one-size-fits-all and are highly unlikely to be fair for your specific situation; one or both partners could end up on the losing side of a court’s decision, sometimes even being left with significantly less than they had before entering into the marriage. It happens all the time, and that’s one of the many reasons why every engaged couple needs a prenup. It’s easily the most important aspect of planning your wedding, so don’t skip it!
Committing fraud by failing to disclose assets, debt or inheritance in a prenup may not make one as criminal as Simon Leviev, but it’s still fraud, and would only result in an invalid prenup.
Cross, C. 2022. How Do You Prevent Being Swindled on Tinder? Retrieved from: https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2022/02/how-do-you-prevent-being-swindled-on-tinder/
Gandhi, H. 2022. 8 Ways to Avoid Getting Swindled by an Online Date or Friend. Retrieved from: https://www.thequint.com/neon/hot-take/how-to-avoid-getting-swindled-or-defrauded-on-a-dating-app#read-more
FBI. N.D. Romance Scams. Retrieved from: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/romance-scams#:~:text=Tips%20for%20Avoiding%20Romance%20Scams,details%20have%20been%20used%20elsewhere.