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.”


Canadian model Winnie Harlow spotted at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia

Canadian model Winnie Harlow spotted at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia
Winnie Harlow attends the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Scott Garfitt)
Updated 29 January 2023

Canadian model Winnie Harlow spotted at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia

Canadian model Winnie Harlow spotted at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: Canadian model Winnie Harlow was spotted in Saudi Arabia this weekend attending the Formula E Diriyah E-Prix.

 The model was part of the thousands of fans who watched on as 22 of the fastest electric race cars ever built raced for the second time this weekend.

 “The experience at Formula E is unmatched and I’ve really enjoyed the vibe, people, atmosphere, and racing. I’ve been to Saudi Arabia a few times and always have a great experience, so I love that Formula E is in Diriyah,” Harlow said in a released statement.

“Living in a more sustainable world and being able to enjoy motorsports at the same time is incredible,” she added. 

Harlow rubbed shoulders with the likes of John Legend, Martin Garrix, Miguel and French Montana, who performed at the event’s after-race concert series.

Netflix series “Emily in Paris” star Lucien Laviscount was also in attendance.

“I’m a massive fan of motorsport and anything to do with cars. Seeing the new GEN3 race car on track for the first time was insane,” he said in a released statement. “It looks like a fighter jet on wheels and sounds like it’s from a sci-fi movie. Formula E are leading the world in electric car innovation. I’m in line for an electric vehicle and this has really given me a taste.”


Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  

Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  
Updated 29 January 2023

Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  

Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  

DUBAI: It would not be an understatement to say that we are living in the golden age of television when it comes to sheer diversity in terms of content. That much is evident when a Dungeons & Dragons game that started out in someone’s living room is now a full-blown animated series on a massive streaming platform — and it has returned for a second season.   

 “The Legend of Vox Machina” is based on the hugely successful D&D actual play series Critical Role, in which players livestreamed themselves playing the tabletop game. The adult animated series made fans in its debut season for its ability to carefully balance juvenile humor with immense character depth, set against a lore-heavy fantasy setting.   

Season two builds on that promise and comes back even stronger with greater character arcs for its seven main characters: Half-elf rogue Vax’ildan (Liam O’Brien), his ranger twin sister Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey), half-elf druid Keyleth (Marisha Ray), gnome bard Scanlan (Sam Riegel), goliath barbarian Grog (Travis Willingham), his BFF gnome paladin Pike (Ashley Johnson) and human gunslinger Percy (Taliesen Jaffe). This is an impressive feat to achieve given that the episodes have a run time of under 30 minutes.   

The new season picks up exactly where season one left off — with a group of large and ancient dragons attacking the city of Emon. Our motley crew of mercenaries/heroes, clearly underqualified for the job of defeating these powerful beings, must now go on a continent-hopping jaunt to retrieve magical artifacts that will help them in this mission.   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by FanologyPV (@fanologypv)

It is helpful here to remember that “TLOVM,” unlike any fantasy series or movie that you may have watched so far, is not based on a book or video game: It is based on a story created by a group of friends as they played a game over several years, albeit with an audience watching on Twitch and YouTube.   

And, hence, what makes the animated show such an engrossing watch, despite having a story that may seem familiar to most fans of fantasy media, is that “TLOVM” manages to accurately capture the bond between the players and translate it into endearing television.   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by FanologyPV (@fanologypv)

And while the personal stakes are dialed up to 11 this time around, the larger plot is not ignored either. As big as the emotional punches are, they are matched in intensity with the beautifully realized action scenes and set pieces, which will again feel familiar to anyone who has ever played a role-playing game with their friends.   

With Critical Role announcing that they will also be animating their second campaign, Mighty Nein, for Amazon, and if you are a fan of all things magic, camaraderie and epic battles, there has never been a better time to tune in and let “Vox Machina” enthrall you. 


‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  

‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  
Updated 29 January 2023

‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  

‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  

DUBAI: The force is strong with “Star Wars” fans in the Middle East.   

British actor and mime artist Anthony Daniels, best known for playing the lovable golden droid C3PO in the “Star Wars” franchise, is headed to the Middle East Film and Comic Con, set to take place in Abu Dhabi from March 3-5.   

He is the only actor to have either appeared in or been involved with all theatrical films in the series, having starred in 10 “Star Wars” films, apart from being involved in several TV shows, video games and radio serials.   

It has also been heavily hinted at that British actor, writer and filmmaker Andy Serkis will be in attendance in Abu Dhabi at the three-day event. Serkis is best known for his performance capture roles comprising motion capture acting, animation and voice work for computer-generated characters such as Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” franchise, Caesar in the “Planet of the Apes” reboot trilogy, and Supreme Leader Snoke in the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy   

He most recently portrayed Kino Loy in the “Star Wars” Disney+ series “Andor.”  

However, Serkis’s attendance has not been confirmed by the organizers as of yet.  


UAE’s Blackpink fans enjoy birthday surprise at Abu Dhabi concert  

UAE’s Blackpink fans enjoy birthday surprise at Abu Dhabi concert  
Blackpink performs onstage at the 2022 MTV VMAs at Prudential Center on August 28, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 29 January 2023

UAE’s Blackpink fans enjoy birthday surprise at Abu Dhabi concert  

UAE’s Blackpink fans enjoy birthday surprise at Abu Dhabi concert  

ABU DHABI: Fans of K-Pop supergroup Blackpink were treated to a concert and surprise birthday celebration for band member Rose at the group’s performance in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night.

The chart-topping group hit the stage and performed a number of their greatest hits — including “Pink Venom” and “Lovesick Girls” — before Korean-New Zealand singer Rose, whose birthday is on Feb. 11, was surprised with a multi-tiered cake on stage. She is set to turn 26.

Bandmember Jennie was also spotted visiting Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque before the show.

Abu Dhabi is the second Middle Eastern stop on the “Born Pink” world tour after the group performed in Riyadh on Jan. 20.


US singer John Legend closes out Diriyah E-Prix 2023 with a bang 

US singer John Legend closes out Diriyah E-Prix 2023 with a bang 
Updated 29 January 2023

US singer John Legend closes out Diriyah E-Prix 2023 with a bang 

US singer John Legend closes out Diriyah E-Prix 2023 with a bang 

DUBAI: US singer-songwriter John Legend made a resounding comeback to the Middle East with his performance at the final day of the Diriyah E-Prix races in Saudi Arabia. 

From up-tempo, dance tracks like “All She Wanna Do” to his famous ballad “All of Me,” Legend had the packed audience screaming for more and singing along to every word. 

Moroccan American rapper French Montana and Egyptian singer-songwriter Mohamed EL-Hamaki also took to the stage on Saturday night. 

Returning for its ninth season and after a two-week break following an opener in Mexico City, the Diriyah E-Prix kicked off on Friday in the Saudi capital with two days of racing on the Diriyah Street Course.