First the ‘love bomb’, then the ‘financial emergency’: 5 tactics of Tinder scammers
In the chart-topping Netflix documentary The Tinder scammerthree women describe how they were scammed by convicted scammer Simon Leviev (born Shimon Hayut) after meeting him on the dating app.
The film gives a detailed and deeply personal account of how Leviev used Tinder to connect with his victims and ultimately scam them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I was search for love fraud for over a decade. I have heard the painful and traumatic stories of hundreds of victims. While each story is unique, there are common factors and broader lessons to learn.
The Tinder Swindler is a powerful example of what can go wrong, but what does it tell us about dating fraud and how can you avoid becoming the next victim?
What is love fraud?
Romance scammers use the pretense of a personal relationship to exploit their victim’s trust and gain financial advantage (or sometimes, like ASIO this week warnedto access private or classified information).
This usually happens online, through a dating website or app, or a social media platform. In many cases, the victim and the aggressor never meet. However, as The Tinder Swindler shows, it can also happen in face-to-face relationships.
Romance fraudsters use a range of skillful grooming techniques, social engineering practices and psychological abuse tactics to gain compliance from their victims.
Leviev successfully manipulated several women into posing as the son of a diamond tycoon, before claiming that his family was under violent threat and asking his victims to take out loans in his name to help deal with a so-called security emergency.
Each of his actions was purposeful and willful, and is reflected more broadly in known criminal patterns. Here is some typical tacticall of which were used by Leviev:
- Create an attractive profile and identity that exudes power, wealth and status.
- Victims of “love bombs” with great expressions of affection, including rapidly evolving into a “couple” and discussing a possible future together.
- Craft an “emergency” that requires urgent financial assistance – this could be a business situation, a medical issue or a criminal justice issue like claiming to have been arrested overseas.
- Increase these financial demands over time, usually by asking victims to transfer money, register credit cards, or take out bank loans.
- Threaten, abuse or otherwise coerce the victim if they refuse.
Why do victims send money?
Watching from the safety of your couch in the living room, it’s easy to say “I wouldn’t be okay with that.” But we should not underestimate the ability of a skilled offender to identify a weakness or vulnerability and ruthlessly exploit it.
Using victim and non-victim surveys, research revealed a handful of traits associated with being a victim of romance fraud. Basically, people with higher levels of fictionalized beliefsor who believe in the idea of ”true love”, are more likely to become victims.
Several victims I spoke with could identify a particular reason that motivated their initial decision to engage with an abuser. It can be the loss of a previous relationship or a change in life circumstances (such as retirement or the departure of children). In many cases, a split-second decision to swipe right on a profile or reply to a friendly message changed their lives forever.
A person’s level of vulnerability to fraud is not static; it can change on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. Many victims would not have been deceived if they had seen the message at any other time. Offenders target hundreds of victims hoping for a single hit.
My research also revealed that many offenders use emotional abuse techniques similar to those commonly found in domestic violence. Offenders may prevent victims from communicating with family and friends, bombard them with messages to monopolize their attention, or verbally abuse them to make them feel worthless. All of these tactics impair a victim’s ability to think clearly about their situation or seek help.
“I would never fall into it”
No victim wakes up in the morning thinking “I’m going to give away all my money today”. Instead, it’s the result of a careful grooming process. Offenders, having gained their victim’s trust, will often create realistic contracts, bank statements, or official letters to justify their demands for money.
They will usually describe these demands as both urgent and covert, as in the case of Leviev’s “security emergency” in which he claimed he tried to negotiate business deals while in hiding. This tactic reduces the victim’s ability to react rationally or seek outside advice.
Victims of romance fraud experience a wide range of negative impacts, including shame and social stigma. They are often blame and held accountable for their financial losses, and this stereotype makes them less likely to report such crimes.
How can I prevent this from happening to me?
Online dating is heavy enough without having to worry about financial fraud. It’s hard to know that someone on a dating app is really who they say they are.
Running fraud prevention advice focuses on taking the relationship to the real world as soon as you feel ready and never giving money to someone you haven’t met face to face. But in The Tinder Swindler, that advice is redundant because Leviev, like many delinquents, had curated an actual persona that matched his digital profile.
The truth is that a determined enough fraudster can extend their online lies into the offline world. Meeting someone in person, researching their background, and performing a reverse image search on their profile picture are all good advice — but they’re not. infallible.
Ultimately, fraud is almost always about money. So think about the reasons behind any request for financial aid and never send money you can’t afford to lose. In 2020, Australians lost more than A$131 million love fraud. It’s a heavy price to pay to drive away true love.
- is Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) of the Faculty of Creative Industries, Education and Social Justice at Queensland University of Technology
This article first appeared on The conversation