"Tinder Swindler" accuser speaks out against alleged con man at center of Netflix doc
All it took was one swipe and Cecilie Fjellhoy was hooked.
After moving to London from her native Norway, Fjellhoy went on the dating app Tinder to look for love. She said she didn't know at the time that things "would go so, so wrongly so, so quickly."
The man she met presented himself as Simon Leviev, an Israeli-born heir to a billion-dollar diamond fortune who lived a lifestyle so luxurious it felt, to Fjellhoy, like a fairy tale. He introduced her to a world of private jets and lavish restaurants.
"He had confidence, but I could feel that he was such a bit of a normal funny guy as well," she told CBS News foreign correspondent Imtiaz Tyab in her first U.S. morning TV interview.
Fjellhoy said that fairy tale soon turned into a living nightmare. After about six weeks of dating, Leviev made a plea for help — and Fjellhoy would soon lose thousands of dollars in a scam that's getting a lot of attention on both sides of the Atlantic.
She is one of three women whose stories are told in the hit Netflix documentary "Tinder Swindler." All three say they met Shimon Hayut — Leviev's real name — on Tinder and were conned by him.
Hayut dated or befriended multiple women, then told them his life was being threatened and asked for money to get to safety, claiming his accounts were being tracked. He is accused of defrauding about $10 million from multiple alleged victims.
Now notorious worldwide as the "Tinder Swindler," the Israeli-born son of a rabbi had a modest upbringing in a Tel Aviv suburb that seems very far away from the lavish and jet-set lifestyle he claimed to lead.
Fjellhoy said Hayut's plea for help first came in a voice message.
"I want to ask you a favor if you have an American Express credit card," he told her in the message. He and his bodyguard had purportedly been attacked by someone he called his "enemies."
"I truly believed that he was in danger," Fjellhoy said, noting that he initially didn't ask her for money.
"He needed my name to travel safely under," she said.
But Leviev kept asking for more and more.
"I felt that I was supporting him," she said. "And it's difficult when everyone is saying, 'Oh, if someone asked me to help them, I would have run the other way.' But what kind of person would I be?"
The Netflix documentary, "Tinder Swindler," lays out in detail how Hayut allegedly ran his multinational con, manipulating victims into taking out bigger and bigger loans for him until they had nothing — financially or emotionally — left to give.
"I think that we knew that this story had sort of universal themes about love," said Felicity Morris, the film's director.
"Swiping in itself, I always feel it's like an act of vulnerability," she said. "We've been really blown away actually by the support and by the sympathy — the outrage of these women should not be blamed for what happened to them."
Morris said that Hayut has allegedly been conning people out of huge sums of money for years and that she knows of roughly 25 alleged victims.
Hayut was no stranger to the authorities. He'd already spent two years in a Finnish prison for fraud before meeting Fjellhoy.
"One of the things he took advantage of was not spending too long in any one country," former federal prosecutor Fred Davis said.
"I don't know whether the U.K., Norway, Sweden, [the Netherlands], any one of those countries really has enough interest to focus on the guy. It's a classic transnational crime, and it happens a lot," he said.
Hayut was finally arrested in 2019, convicted on fraud charges unrelated to Fjellhoy, and spent just five months behind bars. The 31-year-old is now living freely, and according to his Instagram page, just as lavishly as before.
Following the success of the documentary, he is now working with a Los Angeles-based talent agency.
For Fjellhoy, the newfound attention has been overwhelming. Some critics have called her and the other accusers "gold diggers."
"We've heard it before, in 2019," she said. "It's very much a victim-blaming and shaming game here, and we've been laughing about it. We're the worst 'gold diggers' in the world. I think if Simon Leviev had been around proper gold diggers and asked for help they would never have helped him."
Hayut denied the accusations in an upcoming interview with "Inside Edition," set to air Monday night.
"They basically took everything, manipulated, added things to make it in a very narrative which is one-sided," Hayut said. "Basically, just to destroy my name and destroy everything. Just to make me look like this monster."
Fjellhoy said she was swindled out of more than $200,000, coupled with interest, and is now nearly $300,000 in debt. Despite all that's happened to her, she isn't giving up dating apps.
"I am still on Tinder because I don't blame Tinder on this," she said. "I think Tinder was one avenue where he knew that he could manipulate and use his skills that way."
Fjellhoy said she also can't give up on love.
"I am a very loving person and I love people and I just want and I didn't want him to take that from me," she said.
Tinder told CBS News it banned Hayut from the dating app back in 2019 after learning about his alleged scams.
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