Exclusive: Netflix’s Tinder Swindler stars recount transformation from victim to inspiration for women

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Updated 17 May 2022

Exclusive: Netflix’s Tinder Swindler stars recount transformation from victim to inspiration for women

Exclusive: Netflix’s Tinder Swindler stars recount transformation from victim to inspiration for women
  • Norwegian-born Cecilie Fjellhoy and Stockholm native Pernilla Sjoholm to deliver special keynote address at Arab Women Forum
  • Defrauded by a con artist, they have hit back by speaking up about their experience of romance scams

DUBAI: Just swipe left. At least that is what many an indecisive Tinder user may have found themselves doing after the notorious case of the dating app fraudster dubbed the “Tinder Swindler” came to light in an explosive Netflix docu-drama earlier this year.

Despite being defrauded by the conman, Norwegian TV personality Cecilie Fjellhoy and Swedish business owner Pernilla Sjoholm are hitting back by speaking up about their experience.

The women will appear during a special keynote address titled “When women fight back” at the Arab Women Forum, held in partnership with Arab News, at the Palazzo Versace Dubai on May 17.

“It was very traumatic,” Sjoholm told Arab News, reflecting on her experience ahead of Tuesday’s forum appearance. “It wasn’t only about the money you have lost. You have lost the way you viewed yourself, how you viewed everything.

“I used to think about fraud as: ‘Oh my God, who gets defrauded? You must be of lower intelligence or something.’ And I’m very embarrassed to say this today, because of what I lost.

“I was 31 years old, and it was not the way I would have imagined my life to be. To lose everything. You also lose your soul.”

 

 

Based on an expose by Verdens Gang, a Norwegian tabloid newspaper known under the abbreviation VG, the program unearthed the story of Israeli national Shimon Hayut, who allegedly posed on the dating app Tinder as Simon Leviev, claiming to be the son of a diamond mogul.

Hayut notoriously charmed women and persuaded them to loan him money, swindling an estimated $10 million from people across the globe.

According to reports, Hayut followed a pattern. After matching with unsuspecting women on Tinder, he would take them on a lavish first date and slowly build up a relationship, all the while dating other women.




Israeli national Shimon Hayut used the Tinder app to scam unsuspecting victims. 

Eventually, the fraudster would confide in them that a nefarious set of “enemies” were after him, persuading the women to send him money on the understanding that he would quickly pay them back.

After a nifty piece of counter-swindling by one woman, Ayleen Koeleman, who had been alerted to the con by the expose in VG, Hayut was arrested in 2019 and sentenced to 15 months in prison for fraud in Israel.

 

 

However, Hayut served only five months behind bars before being released. He has never been charged for crimes related to Fjellhoy and Sjoholm, and denies their claims of fraud.

And the story does not end there. In a shocking twist, Hayut is now pursuing a Hollywood career, while the women he targeted remain in debt to this day.

“We were very disappointed,” said Sjoholm. “Unfortunately, there is no extradition from Israel to Europe. So he’s still there.




From 2017 to 2019, Shimon Hayut used the dating app Tinder to swindle about $10 million from women around the world. (Shutterstock)

“We don’t think that they handled this case properly and they should have. And, unfortunately, that is the way it happens in a lot of fraud cases. I mean, I just know the numbers in Sweden. They drop 96 percent of all the cases they get, because they have too much.”

Instead of consigning themselves to a life of victimhood, both Sjoholm and Fjellhoy are working to inspire women across the world to identify and fight back against romance scams.

“We have talked about a lot of the shame that surrounds fraud and I think that it’s so important to stand up and say that this could happen to anyone,” said Sjoholm.

“Because it’s so common that fraudsters get away with fraud due to people being scared of sharing their story. So I definitely know that we helped a lot of people and hopefully will help a lot of people in the future as well.”

 

 

According to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting center for fraud and cybercrime, the majority of victims of romance fraud are women. Sjoholm believes women are specifically targeted for their perceived emotional vulnerabilities.

“I think that we women are more emotional people,” she said. “These fraudsters work a lot with emotions, because it is a form of emotional abuse.”

The Tinder Swindler case has raised many questions about what responsibility dating apps ought to hold for romance scams and what more they could be doing to safeguard users.

“I don’t feel like there was a lot that the dating app could have done in our case,” said Fjellhoy, also speaking to Arab News ahead of the forum.

“I feel like just doing proper identity checks so you can’t catfish someone, for example. We see that they have some, but I feel like fraud is much larger than just what happens on the dating app. They take you away from the dating app. It’s just one avenue of many that fraudsters are using.”

Beyond dating apps tightening their safeguards, there have also been calls to improve awareness in schools so that young people are better equipped to spot catfishing — the use of fake accounts to lure victims — and romance scams.

“If you’re going to educate young people, maybe teach them more about what kind of different people exist in the world,” said Fjellhoy.

“There are some people that don’t have empathy, there are psychopaths and narcissists who will take advantage of your empathy and those types of things. But I think it’s important to not put too much emphasis on us as victims as well.”

Indeed, there is a danger of victim blaming if the responsibility for spotting scammers is placed on users, when the onus ought to be on clamping down on fraudsters.

“We didn’t do anything wrong here,” said Fjellhoy. “And fraud will always happen. But, when fraud happens, how do we, as a society, talk about how to stop it?”

 

 

Nevertheless, there are several red flags that dating app users can look out for, says Sjoholm, including “love bombing” — the practice of lavishing someone with attention or affection with a view to influence or manipulate them.

However, Sjoholm believes that the very nature of social media makes it difficult to determine the truth about someone. “When it comes to social media, it is entirely about everyone wanting to show off their best side,” she said.

“Everyone wants to show off the good parts. When it comes to social media, I would say that 95 percent is just fraud in general.”

The mental health repercussions of romance fraud cannot be understated, as victims grapple with both the financial fallout and intense feelings of shame. “Regarding how your mental health is when you realize you’ve been defrauded, I think, for me, why I felt so low that I ended up in a psychiatric ward is that no one took you seriously,” said Fjellhoy.

“And I feel like, for example, you go to the police and they just brush you off. And I tried to contact the banks and they told me: ‘Well, you still need to pay down the loans.’ And you’re still mentally low. It’s double — emotional and economic. You see no way out.”

As a result of her ordeal, Fjellhoy established the Action Reaction Foundation to focus on the mental health challenges of survivors and to lobby for stronger laws as well as policies to protect victims.

One of the lasting effects of the ordeal is an inability to trust others easily. “I’m still having trouble with trust,” said Sjoholm.

“I have more good days than I have bad days. But even on my good days, when someone does something very nice toward me, I can sometimes feel like there’s an agenda behind it. That someone is there to hurt me.

“I can still socialize. I can meet new people, but I’m having a very hard time to really talk to people. I don’t want to take away trust. You should be trusting people, you should be helping people, because that is what makes this world better. But, of course, this has been a tremendous trauma.”

 

 

For Fjellhoy, it is also about having trust in the system to protect victims and take their claims seriously. 

“That the police will be there to protect you, that if you go to the bank, and you’re saying you’re being defrauded, you can get some peace and quiet to figure things out, that they will give that to us,” said Fjellhoy.

“Just so many things that could have made everything that happened afterward much easier, which would have made the fight easier.”

For others who have fallen victim to romance scams, Fjellhoy’s advice is to speak up.

“Please report it to the police, no matter what,” she said. “We know that it hasn’t gone our way. But they need to know about all cases so they can see how big it actually is.

“Please, report it.”


Celebs remember late Tunisian designer at Alaia show in Paris

Model Karlie Kloss attended the show. (Instagram)
Model Karlie Kloss attended the show. (Instagram)
Updated 7 sec ago

Celebs remember late Tunisian designer at Alaia show in Paris

Model Karlie Kloss attended the show. (Instagram)

DUBAI: The who’s who of the fashion industry, including French model Tina Kunakey and Jordanian Romanian footwear designer Amina Muaddi, attended a runway presentation by Alaia on Sunday.

The label, founded by late Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa, released a statement ahead of the ready-to-wear Spring 2023 show that explained why the latest offering is being marketed with the slogan “Rough and Real.”

“Real – as creation should remain far from the likes, far from the screen. These clothes are meant to be worn, meant to be touched and felt. Raw and imperfect, to effect and affect,” a statement signed by creative director Pieter Mulier read.

Shown on the eve of couture week in Paris, Mulier’s third collection for the iconic fashion house took natural fabrics and elevated them into fashion statements. Entire cowhides were shaped into skirts and lengths of boiled cashmere were transformed into cocktail dresses worn with high-heeled fur booties in a line that was equal parts raw and chic.

“It’s about taking all the codes of Azzedine and explaining them to the young generation that don’t really know it,” the designer said backstage, according to WWD. “It’s basically empowering women in a different way than other brands can do,” he added.

The Belgian designer explained that he took many cues from one of Alaia’s 1984 collections, while one design was a replica of a 1992 creation by the Tunisian creative talent that never made it onto the runway.

The glittering front row added to the glamor at the event, with Kunakey joined by her husband, French actor Vincent Cassel, as well as Naomi Campbell, Elle Macpherson, Karlie Kloss and Laura Harrier.

They took in the show in a gutted out space that is set to be a future Alaïa flagship store and offices.

Known to be a fan of the fashion house, Kunakey has showed off Alaia looks on a number of occasions, including in September 2020 when she attended a lavish Bulgari bash in Rome.

For the occasion she donned an elegant fuchsia-colored gown with a scooped, exposed back and a halter neckline. She elevated the look with a selection of sparkling Bulgari diamond rings and a serpent necklace.


Restaurateur Natasha Sideris talks Saudi plans, new dining concept in Dubai

Natasha Sideris is the founder and CEO of Tashas Group. (Supplied)
Natasha Sideris is the founder and CEO of Tashas Group. (Supplied)
Updated 13 min 48 sec ago

Restaurateur Natasha Sideris talks Saudi plans, new dining concept in Dubai

Natasha Sideris is the founder and CEO of Tashas Group. (Supplied)

DUBAI: It’s one of Dubai’s most buzzed about eateries and while the Instagram-worthy Flamingo Room readies to open its doors in Riyadh later this year, we caught up with restaurateur Natasha Sideris to find out more about her success and worldwide expansion plans.

The founder and CEO of Tashas Group, which has a portfolio of varied dining concepts, shed light on why she sees Saudi Arabia as a growing market, as well as her plans for new dining outlets.

“Our decision to expand into Saudi was informed by two things. Firstly, the location that we have found for Flamingo Room by tashas is extraordinary in Bujairi Terrace. Secondly, I think that there are wonderful opportunities in the country. It is a previously untapped market with a large population that is open to new concepts,” Sideris told Arab News.

“As with any new market, there will be challenges,” she added, explain that “we have spent eight years in the UAE forging great relationships with suppliers, shopfitters (and) photographers. It will take time to build relationships with new suppliers, but we are well on our way.”

Curating the concept specially for the Kingdom’s market, the group will open the destination restaurant in a three-storey building inspired by Najd architecture in Diriyah, on the banks of Wadi Hanifah.

The group, which was founded in South Africa and operates out of Dubai in the UAE, has seven brands under its umbrella: tashas, Le Parc by tashas, Flamingo Room by tashas, Avli by tashas, Galaxy Bar, Collective Africa, and 1701.

In addition to its expansion into Saudi Arabia, in the next six to 12 months the group plans to open five other locations, in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, South Africa and London.

“We are going to enter the UK market slowly and sensibly,” Sideris revealed. “The pandemic, as well as Brexit, have made a major impact so we want to make sure we adapt the concept to the market and, all going well, we will expand the number of locations. “

The group is also introducing a brand new concept in Dubai’s Alserkal Arts hub. Called Nala, the project will offer diners luxury quick-service, something the founder said is important to her.

“This concept is close to my heart and we have been working on it for a couple of years. So many people are strapped for time yet would like to eat beautiful food in a stunning environment. Our goal is to serve our guests freshly prepared meals quickly and provide fantastic quality at the same time.”


Louvre Abu Dhabi partners with Paris’ Musée d’Orsay to showcase 150 Impressionist works

‘Women in the garden’ by Claude Monet. (Supplied)
‘Women in the garden’ by Claude Monet. (Supplied)
Updated 04 July 2022

Louvre Abu Dhabi partners with Paris’ Musée d’Orsay to showcase 150 Impressionist works

‘Women in the garden’ by Claude Monet. (Supplied)

DUBAI: The Louvre Abu Dhabi has partnered with Paris’ Musée d’Orsay on what is billed as one of the most significant Impressionist exhibitions ever to be held outside France — the upcoming “Impressionism: Pathways to Modernity” show.

Set to run from Oct. 12, 2022, to Feb. 5, 2023, the exhibition will bring together more than 150 works alongside etchings, costumes, film and photography to explore why Impressionism was considered so shocking in the 19th century.

Art enthusiasts will be able to enjoy works from Impressionist masters such as Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne.

Widely seen as a rebellious artistic movement, Impressionism is marked by its shift away from the academic convention and traditions of 19th century European painting, with pioneers known to have regularly caused a stir. In fact, Manet’s “Olympia” is regarded as one of the most scandalous paintings of the time and caused controversy when it was first displayed at the 1865 Paris Salon, while Monet achieved fame for his relaxed style, which was a far cry from the hyper-realistic paintings of the previous era.

The artistic movement “saw some of history’s bravest and most visionary painters embrace and extoll new ways of seeing, making art, and living. They celebrated this thrilling new reality, representing truthful observations of nature and modern life,” the museum’s website reads.

The upcoming exhibition on Impressionism comes as the Louvre Abu Dhabi expands its international collection with the recent announcement of two loans from the Philippines’ Ayala Museum.

Set to be on show until June 2023, the museum’s first-ever showcase of artifacts from the Philippines features two items that date back to the 10th-13th century. The first loan is a gold cup that was recovered from Nabua in the Camarines Sur province of the Philippines. It highlights the striking similarity of Filipino works to the Chinese gold and silverware acquired by Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2019.

The second artifact is a funerary mask from the city of Butuan in the Philippines. It places emphasis on immortality being the universal hope of mankind when faced with death, according to a released statement. This artifact is currently showcased alongside other historical items from the Levant and South America that exemplify this shared tradition.


Model Shanina Shaik kicks off wedding season in style

Model Shanina Shaik has starred in a number of fashion campaigns. (File/ Getty Images)
Model Shanina Shaik has starred in a number of fashion campaigns. (File/ Getty Images)
Updated 03 July 2022

Model Shanina Shaik kicks off wedding season in style

Model Shanina Shaik has starred in a number of fashion campaigns. (File/ Getty Images)

DUBAI: Part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik kicked off wedding season in style by attending the nuptials of fellow Victoria’s Secret model Nadine Leopold and tech entrepreneur Andrew Barclay.

The pair tied the knot at an undisclosed location and while Shaik respected the couple’s privacy and did not post shots of the wedding, she did take to Instagram to show off her wedding attire and shared a short video of fireworks at the reception.

Shaik opted for a cream-colored silk shirt that grazed her baby bump and captioned the photo of her outfit, which she shared on Instagram Stories, “bestie’s wedding.”

The growing baby bump is not news to Shaik’s 2.9 million Instagram followers, who learned of her pregnancy in May.

The catwalk star took to Instagram on Mother’s Day to share the happy news followers, posting three images of her bump with an extended caption in the form of a letter.

“To the new love of my life, thank you for choosing me to be your Mum. I have always wanted you for as long as I can remember, and at times my patience was tested. The timing had to be right, and I can say with confidence that I am ready to be your guide, your protector and your best friend,” she said.

The 31-year-old model, who is of Saudi, Pakistani, Lithuanian and Australian descent, is expecting the baby with her partner Matthew Adesuyan, the head of a record label in Los Angeles.

“As each month goes by during this precious journey of pregnancy, I am learning what the role of being a mother entails. I worry a lot, especially about your wellbeing and development. It’s a feeling that I’ve never experienced before, not even about myself. I would do anything for you, be anything for you and sacrifice anything for you,” she added.

She praised her own mother mentioning that she was raised by an “amazing woman” who taught her a lot about motherhood. “She has set the bar high and I don’t want to disappoint you. I want to raise you as she raised me.”

The mom-to-be ended the lengthy caption saying: “Sharing you with the world today is the most precious gift I could possibly receive on Mother’s Day. Mummy and Daddy can’t wait to meet you!”

Since sharing the news, Shaik has treated fans to regular updates about her pregnancy, including a post late last week that she captioned “baby kicked,” as well as her prenatal stretching tips and skincare routine.


UN report with Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture spotlights pandemic’s effect on arts scene

The report’s findings were unveiled in Abu Dhabi. (Supplied)
The report’s findings were unveiled in Abu Dhabi. (Supplied)
Updated 03 July 2022

UN report with Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture spotlights pandemic’s effect on arts scene

The report’s findings were unveiled in Abu Dhabi. (Supplied)

DUBAI: While lockdowns, postponements and cancellations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic seem largely in the past, the socio-economic upheaval is still being reckoned with — and the international arts and culture scene is just one of many sectors that has been left reeling.

A new report released by UNESCO in partnership with Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism (DTC), titled “Culture in Times of COVID-19 Resilience, Recovery and Revival,” explores the major global trends that have reshaped the cultural sector due to COVID-19 and provides solutions for its revival.

Research for the report began in September 2021 when the DCT partnered with UNESCO to publish the first global assessment of the impact of COVID-19 across all cultural domains since the advent of the pandemic.

The findings were released during an event late last week in Abu Dhabi where both the DCT’s Chairman Mohamed Al-Mubarak and Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, UNESCO assistant director general, were present.

“Lockdowns experienced by many countries destroyed jobs and business in the culture sector,” Ramirez told Arab News. “This had a severe impact on the sector with more than 10 million jobs lost in 2020 alone and a 20 to 40 percent drop in revenues across the sector.”

Venue-based activities such as theaters and museums — as well as World Heritage sites — were hit hard.

“UNESCO reported that about 90 percent of museums and cultural institutions closed worldwide and about 90 percent of countries saw their World Heritage sites fully or partially closed in 2020,” he added.

“Many artists and cultural professionals have lost their livelihoods; pre-existing inequities have been deepened — including for women and girls — further amplifying social and   economic insecurities. These impacts have brought leading decision-makers and cultural professionals to further rely on the social and economic role of culture as a road to recovery,” stated the report.

Cultural and creative industries, as well as artists, also suffered greatly, emphasized Ramirez and the report. “The estimate is that in 2020 there was a $750bn contraction in the Gross Value Added generated by the cultural and creative industries globally, relative to 2019,” he told Arab News. “We need strong policies that support these industries and the artists. Artists and cultural professionals should not only be adequately recognized henceforth but appropriately credited for their work and contribution.”

Recognizing the importance of museums, cultural institutions and heritage sites is also vital. 

“They not only preserve heritage but offer equal access to culture and provide vital education, social inclusion, cultural diversity and well-being,” said Ramirez.

While the culture sector is beginning to recover, what the pandemic has taught those in the field is that it cannot move forward in today’s world without developing and sustaining a collective ecosystem.

“This includes data-driven policies, inter and intra-sectoral collaboration, economic investment, infrastructure, regulations, socio-economic support and capacity-building,” explained Ramirez.

Crucially, he emphasized, “if we are to preserve our culture, we must ensure the continuity of its creation by supporting artists and professionals in adapting to a changing world; providing equal access and opportunities across the cultural value chain; ensuring social protection and fair retribution for all; harnessing technological change to support innovation and facilitate a diversity of cultural expressions.”

The cultural sector, even in its weakened state, caused many to question what they value and prioritize. Culture in that light is often a source of comfort, connection and beauty for many. Take it away and we lose a vital part of our wellbeing and our communication with others.