The now popular two-hour-long documentary, The Tinder Swindler has exposed a dark side of love.
The documentary highlights the experience of two women, all educated, beautiful and independent, who fell victim to an online dating scammer, Simon Leviev. Simon has scammed millions from women by having the perfect social media presence, which exudes wealth and exposure, and his web of lies that revolved around him being an Israeli diamond billionaire. Simon is so good at what he does that according to the grapevine, he has to date scammed over 20 women.
When the story first hit Kenyan social media, the memes were all about how Simon had clearly never met Kenyan women because they never give men money.
However, as the month of love (February) was coming to an end a number of Kenyan women who had been scammed by ‘Simon-like’ personalities began to share their stories online. Clearly, there is an abundance of Simon-like personalities in these Nairobi streets.
Interestingly enough, from watching the documentary and reading the personal stories of women online, it is clear that this is a new breed of conmen. Back in the day con men looked like con men. You could smell them a mile away because they never looked like the stories they were trying to sell.
Further, not much effort was put into creating the imaginary and desirable personality that would be used to lure in unsuspecting victims like honey to the bee.
However, the Simon-like breed of conmen clearly understand the psychology of women; they are patient and even long-suffering and are willing to put in good money in order to make money.
These men seem to operate with one accord. They are all men who dress well, drive big cars or claim to drive big cars, and use their social media platforms to show that they are wealthy and well to do. At least, from the outside, they look like the elusive Prince Charming.
Further, they are patient and have mastered the art of love bombing an unsuspecting victim with what seems to be over the top romantic gestures at the very beginning of the relationship.
Basically, they are the perfect attentive partner who calls regularly, checks in and is intentional about making an effort to truly know their unsuspecting victims’ deepest needs and desires, and then proceed to cater to them.
Willing buyer willing seller
Simon of the Netflix Tinder Swindler fame seemed to be a master of over-the-top romantic gestures. I mean who has their first date on a private jet? Looking at the stories of the Kenyan swindlers, the men also seemed to add another element to the list, they all claimed to be ‘saved’ men who constantly posted verses from the Bible.
Basically, the goal of the men was to create a personality that women would feel safe with both emotionally, mentally, spiritually and financially. And once the women were hooked line and sinker, they created an emergency that only the unsuspecting victim could help with financially.
The irony of all the love swindler stories from Netflix and here in Kenya is that his victims were all educated, exposed and well to do women. Which begs the question, why then were they suspectable to the con?
Eve spoke to three women - a victim of a swindler, and two relationship experts - to find out why women are susceptible, and how they can better protect themselves in future relationships.
Cynthia Wambui Otieno, a marriage and relationship therapist says love swindlers are quick and intentional to establish intimacy as a way to blind their victims.
“They establish trust immediately. They have researched and sell to a woman what she wants. Basically, a woman’s idea of what love looks like based on what society has thrown down her throat through fairy tales and Rom-Coms,” she says.
Cynthia adds, “Love swindlers milk the saviour mentality. They create a false image of safety through their social media presence and false claim to wealth using their posts and pictures. I mean, every girl wants that knight in shining armour, just like every fairy tale from Cinderella to Sleeping Beauty.”
In line with Cynthia, Mucha Mlingo, an emotional intelligence coach, PTS Africa, says that any woman can be a victim to these types of swindlers, and the reason why women are easy prey for love swindlers can be attributed to a number of reasons.
“Firstly, from the time a woman is a young girl, there is a subliminal message she will get her self-worth and purpose and wholeness from a man and by being in a relationship. So, there is this thing she is nurtured to believe that her greatest accomplishment is to be in a relationship. It does not help that auntie and relatives are always nagging unmarried women. It can make one easily susceptible to a con man, and make them stay in a relationship they probably should be running from,” says Mucha.
The emotional intelligence coach says another reason is the fact that women are taught from the time they are young the best way to identify a stable man - one who can make a good husband - is by how much money he has.
“We are told by society a man is considered worthy based on his financial ability. And when you meet a man who is actually of good character, but has no money you are advised to drop them because they are supposedly wasting your time since they lack financial muscle. Wealth is the definition of manhood. In fact, some women can forgive a man for anything, any atrocity as long as they have or appear to have money,” she says.
“We need to rewrite and redefine manhood. Yes, you do not want to be with a man who cannot take care of you, but it is not the only quality to look out for when dating or even getting married. There must be more to a man.’’
Mucha warns women should create clear boundaries between money and love. “You should not loan money to a man who is not your husband. Outside marriage, why should you give money to someone? In fact, the best advice I can give is that you should never give out money you cannot afford to lose. Be clear and respect your money; after all, you have worked hard for it. Put clear boundaries around your money and what you choose to do with it.”
She advises women to ensure they first love themselves and heal before they enter into a relationship. “The best way to have a relationship is to first start with self-love. It is important to love yourself before you can love another person. So do not go out there looking for love until you have accepted and learnt to love yourself as you are.”
Mucha says women should realise that apart from having a relationship they should also be intentional about growing their friendships and having a social life. That it is dangerous when a woman’s relationship is her everything.
“You must have a life, do not ostracise yourself, no man is an island. Whether married or single, have a life apart from having a man. Do not allow your life to revolve around this one individual. Feed and nurture other aspects of your life. The biggest red flag is when someone is not supportive of your friendships and family, they want to be your whole world and for you to have no one else around you,” she says.
“Ensure you do not love in isolation. Introduce your man to your close family and friends as they may see something you are blind to. Allow people to say what they think about your man; if you have brothers bring him to hang out with your brothers.”
Being a believer, Mucha advises women to pray before they commit fully to any type of relationship. “If I have no peace about something after I have prayed, I know something is off. God is never wrong.”
Rose Kemunto, a financial analyst and content creator, says that between 2015 and 2017 she lost Sh1.2 million savings; and an additional Sh600,000 in terms of a vehicle to a man she met on Facebook and started a relationship with after about four months of getting to know him online.
Rose says that when she realised what had happened it was a tough season of recovery. Now she has healed and is in a better place, she chose to share her story so she could prevent it from happening to someone else.
“I learnt so much from that experience, and I wanted to share the red flags women should look out for so that I can help someone else. To begin with, she says women should always follow their gut instincts, and not believe someone is a good man just because they present themselves to be God-fearing. The first time he asked me for money, I felt very uneasy and did not give him. He asked me many more times before I finally agreed to give him money and even then, we had to go to a lawyer and draft a legal agreement he would pay me back,” she says.
The financial analyst says that even when you are in a relationship, it is important to keep your family and friends close as they provide an important accountability structure.
“From the moment my two closest friends met him they did not like him. But he said that they were not good friends and were too worldly because they went out, and because he was a good Christian man, he wanted us to stay home more. I now realise that when someone wants to swindle you, they separate you from your support system so you only have them as a point of reference as it makes you more susceptible to their manipulation,” she says.
Rose adds that women should always separate their money from love affairs, especially when they are dating.
“Always have clear boundaries between your relationship and money. When you are in a relationship your partner should not ask you for money, especially because he is a man. He should first ask his friends, family and lending institutions. Do not believe you are the only one who can lend him money,” she says.
How to avoid being love swindled
1) Listen to your woman’s Intuition. It will never steer you wrong. God gave women a very strong sense. If you feel uneasy or that something is not right in your relationship, listen and act accordingly.
2) Have an accountability structure and expose the person to your friends and family.
3) Do your due diligence and investigate the person you are dating. Ask around, visit his workplace, and if you suspect something is off, but you cannot put your finger on it, hire a private investigator. Do not believe everything you are told.
4. Work on yourself. If you have childhood trauma or relationship trauma, find help before getting into a relationship. Only date when you are whole. You must realise that a man cannot make you happy and fulfil you completely; Cinderella and the other fairy tales lied. Also, after finding your Prince Charming, it does not mean it will lead to a happily ever after, so stop sacrificing everything at the altar in order to keep a man.
- Cynthia Wambui Otieno, a marriage and relationship therapist