Subject of the Netflix documentary ‘The Tinder Swindler’ hid out in Prague

The top-ranked doc starts a bit slow but turns into a riveting cat-and-mouse game.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 09.02.2022 17:00:00 (updated on 10.02.2022) Reading time: 4 minutes

Prague plays a crucial but late role in the new globe-hopping documentary “The Tinder Swindler,” currently the top film on Netflix both worldwide and in the Czech Republic.

The doc focuses on a man who claimed to be a billionaire with a Champagne-caviar-and-private jet lifestyle but is actually a conman, who'd be penniless without his victim's money. The swindler was born Shimon Hayut but legally changed his name to Simon Leviev so he could claim to be related to a famous diamond billionaire (the real Lev Leviev owns actual real estate holdings in Prague). Or a Mossad secret agent.

Three women tell of their encounters with Leviev. All of them met him over Tinder, the popular dating app. The story is a bit slow at first and repetitive. He uses the same basic scam on all of his victims. Much of the start is basic talking-head interview footage, spiced up with closeups of text messages and audio clips from WhatsApp.

It is tempting to click away during the first 15 minutes, as it seems to be just another cautionary tale about the dangers of engaging with strangers you meet over the internet. But stay with it, the film becomes an unbelievable journey with stops all across Europe.

On the first few dates, Leviev spends lavishly on his targets, transporting them in private jets and sports cars and treating them to decadent meals comprised of entire restaurant menus.

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Once he hooks his victims, he turns from spending to borrowing, and not just a few dollars but tens of thousands. How he lures women in is a master class in manipulation and gaslighting.

The drama builds as the two main victims in the documentary – Pernilla Sjöholm and Cecilie Schrøder Fjellhøy – realize what has happened to them and try to bring him to justice. Finally, the viewer sees some action as reporters try to track down enough evidence to make a case, bringing the viewer to Munich and Tel Aviv.

The third victim in the documentary, Ayleen Charlotte, enters the plot a bit later and helps bring the action to Prague for a climax. The filmmakers opted mostly to use stock footage of the city, showing an overhead view of Charles Bridge for example, rather than explore any of the locations mentioned, which is a bit disappointing.

Ayleen Charlotte in
Ayleen Charlotte in "The Tinder Swindler." Photo: Netflix.

Spoilers ahead. A few still pictures of Leviev in Prague can be seen. The Náměstí Míru accommodation he holed up in, Happy Hostel, is featured in one shot. He also attempted to have plastic surgery in Prague, though the name of the clinic is not revealed. Where the swindler stayed in Prague as he lived out his high-ticket lifestyle is glossed over as being located "outside the center."

It’s a shame, as the places where he stayed and dined while living it up certainly would've had potential as tourist attractions. Surely people would love to sample one of the meals he indulged in with Valentine's Day approaching. Even the hostel could rent his room out at a premium, though he seems not to have enjoyed his stay there.

Film-industry publication Variety reports that a fictionalized feature film is in the works, so perhaps more Prague locations will be revealed. Casting has not yet been announced, but A-listers are sure to be competing for the coveted role.

Timothée Chalamet, with his sleazy charm, seems born to play the role of conman. James Franco, perhaps a little too old already, is otherwise tailor-made for the part. The actual Simon Leviev is now 31 and would have been in his mid-20s when much of the action took place.

A number of questions are raised by the documentary, not all of which have clear answers. What liability does Tinder as a platform hold for the conman’s actions? Surprisingly, Leviev had previously been convicted of fraud but continued to use Tinder to find new victims.

Another loose end is that several law enforcement agencies managed to get him in their grasp, but gave Leviev just a slap on the wrist rather than take any real action to stop him, such as a lifetime ban from the internet or a sentence reflecting the severity of his crimes.

Leviev continues to deny the allegations against him and refused to participate in the documentary. He was active on Tinder under various names until the Netflix documentary came out at the start of February.

The dating app has since shared the following statement: "We have conducted internal investigations and can confirm Simon Leviev is no longer active on Tinder under any of his known aliases."

For their part, the victims who appear in the documentary show great courage in telling their stories in addition to ingenuity by helping authorities catch their aggressor. Hopefully, an eventual sequel will see Leviev brought to justice and made to answer for the debts these women racked up on his behalf and will be paying for years to come.

The Tinder Swindler is available now on Netflix.

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