By Miracle Amo
As the number of romance scams in the United States continues to rise, victims continue to fall for simple methods that have changed very little over the years. The classic romance scam consists of a person, who adopts a false identity to order to gain a victim’s trust and affection. The person then uses the relationship to manipulate or steal from the victim. In order to gain access to the victim’s funds, they commonly use a pretext that includes a family or health emergency or an inability to access their own funds.
The Tinder Swindler, a new documentary on Netflix, provides a good, although elaborate, illustration of a modern romance scam. The documentary explores how Simon Leviev (born Shimon Hayut) was able to defraud the women he met on the dating app, Tinder. Leviev’s scheme contained all of the elements of a classic romance fraud. He adopted a fake identity by claiming to be the son of diamond mogul, Lev Leviev. He used Tinder to meet women, who he would treat with lavish gifts in an effort to gain their trust and affection.  Once the relationship was underway, he would send the women a misleading photo of his injured bodyguard, claiming the attack was the work of his “enemies.” Next, Leviev would claim that due to a security threat he was unable to access his own money and would need a credit card in someone else’s name so he could not be tracked.  Subsequently, the women would open lines of credit or send him money, which he often promised to pay back. Leviev would repeat the cycle with a different woman, using the funds from one victim to bait the next victim.
Romance scams are not new, but the increased use of dating apps has introduced this age-old scheme to a broader audience. Reports show that people are experiencing higher levels of loneliness and isolation due to the pandemic, and as a result are seeking more online relationships. The FTC reports that the number of romance scam victims increased for every age group in 2021. However, the growth is most striking for people ages 18 to 29, who have increased more than tenfold from 2017 to 2021. Although romance scams are known to take place on dating websites or apps, people are being defrauded on social media as well.  Data shows that more than a third of the people who lost money to an online romance scam claimed that the communication started on Facebook or Instagram, often through an unexpected private message.
In the past five years, Americans have reported losing $1.3 billion to romance scams, more than any other FTC fraud category. In 2021, reported losses hit a record $547 million for the year. That is more than six times the reported losses in 2017 and a near 80% increase compared to 2020. As reported losses continue to increase every year; it is important that online users know and are able to spot the signs of a potential romance scam.
While the victims of the Tinder Swindler were able to use GoFundMe to try and recoup their losses, many are not so lucky. Some of the groups perpetrating romance scams are in other countries, making them harder to shut them down. Although the FBI has seen some success in recovering funds from victims when they are immediately notified, many victims don’t realize they’ve been scammed for several weeks, months, even years.
 Federal Agencies Launch Joint Effort to Alert Online Daters and Social Media Users of Romance Scams That Have Cost Americans Millions, Commodity Futures Trading Comm’n (Feb. 7, 2022), https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/PressReleases/8491-22 [hereinafter Joint Effort].
 Romance Scams, FBI, https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/romance-scams.
 Zachary Snowdon Smith, Americans Lost $1 Billion to Romance Scammers Last Year, FBI Says, Forbes (Feb. 10, 2022), https://www.forbes.com/sites/zacharysmith/2022/02/10/americans-lost-1-billion-to-romance-scammers-last-year-fbi-says/?sh=5bd3050861d.
 John DiLillo, Who is the Tinder Swindler?, Netflix (Feb. 14, 2022), https://www.netflix.com/tudum/articles/who-is-tinder-swindler-real-shimon-hayut.
 Sushrut Gopesh, ‘The Tinder Swindler’ Explained: Did They Catch Shimon Yahuda Hayut, a.k.a. Shimon Leviev?, Digital Mafia Talkies (Feb. 3, 2022), https://dmtalkies.com/the-tinder-swindler-explained-2022-netflix-docu/.
 Lauren Kranc, The Tinder Swindler Simon Leviev Pretended to Be the King of Diamonds, Esquire (Mar. 1, 2022), https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a38955743/tinder-swindler-simon-leviev-true-story-where-is-he-now/.
 Gopesh, supra note 7.
 Joint Effort, supra note 1.
 Michelle Singletary, Romance scams cost consumers a record $304 million, Wash. Post (Oct. 19, 2021), https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/10/19/dating-apps-romance-scams/.
 Emma Fletcher, Reports of Romance Scams Hit Record Highs in 2021, FTC (Feb. 10, 2022), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/data-visualizations/data-spotlight/2022/02/reports-romance-scams-hit-record-highs-2021.
 L’Oréal Blackett, The Tinder Swindler Women Have Launched a Fund to Help with Their Debts, Bustle (Feb. 7, 2022), https://www.bustle.com/entertainment/the-tinder-swindler-women-gofundme-campaign.
 Romance Scams, supra note 2.
Image source: https://scamrap.com/a-woman-was-charged-after-money-landed-in-to-her-bank-account-from-love-scam-victims/