Friday, December 2, 2022

The Love Diaries: “I Was Swindled on Tinder.” Plus, An Expert Tells How to Keep Yourself Safe On Dating Apps

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Welcome to our series, The Love Diaries – a space for you to share your experiences, advice, fairy-tale endings, setbacks and heartbreaks. We’ll be hearing from industry experts giving practical advice alongside Capsule readers (You!) sharing your firsthand experiences with love – everything from finding love, to keeping love, to losing love.

If you have a topic you’d like to discuss, share your thoughts, experience or advice about, drop a line to [email protected] with ‘Love’ in the subject line. All stories that are published will will a Dermalogica BioLumin-C Moisturiser, valued at $119!

This week, hot off the heels of the Netflix hit, The Tinder Swindler, we speak to a Kiwi woman who was massively deceived on a dating app recently. We also discover the surprising number of Capsule readers who’ve gone on a date with a match and found they’ve told a lie. Plus, we talk to an expert about what we should be doing to keep ourselves safe when going on the apps!

It’s never been quite so easy to find true love.

It could truly be as simple as just swiping right at the right time on the right person to find ‘the one’. But, as Netflix’s new hit documentary – The Tinder Swindler – has highlighted, it’s also possible that an innocent swipe could also land you in a whole world of heartbreak and trouble.

The story at the centre of the doco is an extreme tale of caution. It follows several women who were wooed by a suave young man, Simon Leviev, who claimed to be the son of a diamond billionaire – a business he had inherited and now criss-crossed the globe in private jets, dining out with clients at Michelin star restaurants and staying at opulent hotels.

He’d invite Tinder matches out for coffee or a meal at one of those glitzy hotel restaurants while he was briefly in their city, bombarding them with love and attention before inviting them on a quick getaway aboard his private jet. They’d get an insight into his glamorous life but would also fall for the sensitive and compassionate man behind the expensive suits. Which is about when he’d start dropping the L word and would ask them to start looking at lavish apartments for them to move into together. But then would come the next phase of his plan: conning them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and disappearing.

While it may be an extreme tale of caution, the idea of telling a few fibs on a dating app is certainly nothing new. The likes of Tinder, Bumble and Hinge may be a great place to potentially find love, they’re also a forum in which it’s very easy to lie – or intimidate someone.

We surveyed 200 Capsule followers who have used dating apps and found that 42% of respondents had felt unsafe at some point, thanks to someone they had connected with.

And it appears there are certainly a fair few people telling fibs – 49% of respondents said they’d turned up to a date and realised that they’d been told a little lie of some sort, whether it was about their date’s age or height. And, a startling 27% soon discovered that their date had actually lied about their relationship status – or worse, their marital status.

Aucklander Annie was completely disenchanted by dating apps after a run of bad or mediocre dates, and was considering deleting it one night after work, when she instead decided to have one last quick swiping session.

She swiped right on two guys before she came across James. He had bright blue/green twinkling eyes and a great smile – he was quite obviously good-looking, but didn’t appear to be a show-off in his pics. There were none of the usual photos with a fish/motorbike/car or a baby (with the caption ‘Don’t worry, it’s just my niece!’) – just two different photos of him caught mid laugh, enjoying a beer.

When Annie swiped right, it instantly came up as a match – then, within a couple of minutes she had a message from James. “Hey, how are you? Nice pics. I’m a basketball fan too. Who’s your team?”

For the next 15 minutes or so they pinged message after message back and forth. James seemed like a great guy and Annie started to get her hopes up. Then he sent the message, “Hey, I hope this doesn’t seem too forward, but I was about to delete Tinder before we matched. Too many crazies on here lately. I still am keen to get off, but want to keep talking to you. Would you be comfortable giving me an email address or cell phone so we can keep chatting?”

“It was like he’d read my mind,” says Annie. “It felt like a sign, so I gave him my cell-phone number.” Sure enough, a minute later, James had disappeared from the app. She wondered if that was the end of things, but 10 minutes later her phone beeped with a message from him.

Over the next week they text back and forth often, eventually agreeing to meet up. It was the best date Annie had ever been on.

“He was definitely a handsome man,” she says. “But we got on so good too. We had so much in common it was almost scary.”

As the night progressed, James told her there was something he needed to tell her and he was a bit worried about saying it. She braced herself, as he revealed that he’d been married and they’d split just two months earlier.

“He said it might seem like a short time since, but that emotionally, he’d really checked out of the relationship a year earlier,” tells Annie. His wife had wanted to make it work, despite the fact she’d cheated on him, and he’d gone to therapy with her and stuck it in for a whole year, but his heart hadn’t been in it, he no longer loved her.

“It was kind of a relief, if anything, and made me like him more,” says Annie. “I wasn’t worried that he’d been married, I thought it was honorable that he’d tried to make it work.” Plus, she felt sorry for him that he’d been so heartbroken by her cheating.

James explained that he was yet to get on his feet and find a new place to live – he’d moved back with his parents for a month but now was temporarily staying with a friend while he looked for something new.

Simon Leviev – the subject of Netflix’s The Tinder Swindler. IMAGE: Instagram

As their relationship quickly grew over the following weeks, it made perfect sense to Annie as to why James would stay at her place, rather than inviting her back to his (unless he’d got an Airbnb for the weekend) – and why he felt a bit cagey about her meeting his friends and family.

“He said he was over his ex-wife and I fully believed him,” she says. “He was just worried about what some of his friends would think, because he hadn’t let them know about the cheating when it happened, so it had all come as a shock and happened fast for them.”

Five months later, James and Annie had exchanged I love you’s. He was still bouncing around with his living situation, but she’d been going to open homes with him – and had even gone to an auction with him. “He missed out, so was determined to save up more,” she says. “I offered for him to move in with him, but he said he really wanted to get back into the property market and wanted to wait until we’d been together at least a year to live together after what he’d been through with his ex.”

But then one day at work, Annie’s phone rang – it was James. Except when she said hi, a woman’s voice instead responded. “Who is this?” asked the woman. “I’m sorry, what? It’s Annie? Who is this?” she replied.

“I think you know who this is,” said the voice, trembling as it got louder and higher. “You’re sleeping with my husband!”

James had said enough about his ex-wife for Annie to figure this was exactly the kind of thing she’d do. So, as she quickly ran to the bathroom for some privacy she said, “Sarah. It’s none of your business what James and I are doing, or what he does with anyone else anymore. Now I have to go, please don’t call and harass me again.”

“Wait, what, who is James? Who is Sarah?!?” said the woman.

For a moment, Annie felt a surge of relief. It was a wrong number.

Except, as she soon found out through the course of the conversation, this woman was the same woman who was legally married to her boyfriend. In fact, her boyfriend James was not actually James, his name was Peter. And he didn’t have an ex-wife named Sarah, he had a current wife named Claire.

While Annie struggled to get her head around it (it felt like her “brain was going to explode” and it was difficult to move out of a state of complete denial), the evidence was obvious. When she’d quickly googled James she had only been able to find a Facebook profile, that was completely private. But Peter had a full Facebook profile, LinkedIn and various other internet hits. His wife was also able to provide photos of them out on a romantic dinner the week earlier, celebrating her birthday.

“I felt completely sick,” says Annie. “I had no idea what to do. I wanted to confront him, but his wife had his phone and I didn’t actually know where exactly his office was.”

She drove to the house she’d dropped him off at a few times – that friend he’d been staying with, but the couple who answered the door had never heard of James, or Peter, nor had they had anyone staying with them.

She’s tried his work listed on his (now deleted) LinkedIn page, but Peter no longer works there and they wouldn’t give out any of his personal details.

It’s now been seven weeks, and Annie has still not been able to track down James/Peter. There’s been no contact, he has completely disappeared – his phone has been disconnected and his Facebook profile no longer exists. She’s desperate for answers.

“I don’t understand how someone can do this,” she says. “Or why he did this.”

“I get why he wanted to get off Tinder so quickly now. He must have been freaked someone would see him if he stayed on it more than 15 minutes or something. And then if someone did see him, the name was different, so he could just say someone was pretending to be him.”

“I just need some closure, I’m losing my mind,” says Annie. “If Peter/James or Sarah/Claire is out there, he has my number, I just want one final conversation. Or if anyone knows Peter who has just quit his job, changed his number and quit Facebook – please tell me!”

Annie has heard of The Tinder Swindler documentary, but she hasn’t watched the whole thing – she found it to distressing. And while she counts herself lucky that she didn’t lose any money, she still feels incredibly distressed and heartbroken by what has happened.

And sadly – as our quick Capsule poll showed – Annie is far from being the only woman who has been deceived on dating apps.

It’s likely why more and more New Zealanders are taking to the web after making a match online to do a little – or thorough – research on any potential dates. NortonLifeLock recently held a global study which polled 1,000 Kiwi adults aged 18+. They found that 67% of respondents had looked up a prospective partner after matching with them online.

The most common forms of vetting were looking up social media profiles (51%), typing a name into a search engine (26%) or looking up a profile on a professional networking site (21%).

Nearly one in four took it a step further by looking up their match’s friends or family members online. If that sounds like it’s getting quite intrusive – four per cent admitted to paying for a professional check on their match.

With stories like Annie’s out there – and that of the Tinder Swindler himself – it’s no wonder Kiwis are taking additional steps to make sure their match is all that they seem, to avoid a broken heart, or broken bank balance.

NortonLifeLock’s Senior Director – APAC, Mark Gorrie says that he’d be surprised now if someone wasn’t googling or engaging in some form of online vetting before meeting someone for the first time. ““With people discounting a match because of what they’ve discovered online, it really highlights how personal information online can go beyond the originally intended audience and why it’s best to keep your contact information private.”

He says there are a number of steps Kiwis should be taking if they’re active on dating apps to avoid being scammed and protect their personal safety, but to also keep their own information private.

An Experts Top Tips for Staying Safe on Dating Apps

Here are Mark Gorrie’s best pieces of advice:

  • Look for obvious red flags, if someone starts asking for financial assistance or overly specific information like ‘what’s your mother’s maiden name’, #swipeleft.
  • Despite it being the norm, avoid sharing your full name, place of work and school on your dating profile. These are all breadcrumbs for that a stalker or cybercriminal can use to build a complete profile of you. It’s easier to become a victim of identity theft than to find love online.  
  • As a rule, wait to share personal information, and never give someone you’ve just met sensitive personal information, such as bank or credit card details.
  • Use different photos for your dating profile than on your social media accounts, it’s easy to reverse image search with Google and for others to discover even information about you. On a related note, review and update the privacy settings on your social media accounts. Make it so that information is only visible to those in your network. 
  • If you do get suspicious requests, report it to the app or site you’re using straight away. Block and report users with suspicious profiles, or who have acted inappropriately toward you. If things spill into the real world, report it to Netsafe and the police.
  • And critically, before meeting someone new IRL, tell a friend or family member where you’re going.

*Names have been changed

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