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The ‘Tinder Swindler’ captivates Kenyans

‘Simon’ poses as an Israeli billionaire diamond company heir. [Courtesy]

The two-hour-long documentary, The Tinder Swindler on Netflix kicked off the month of love with a bang.

The story talks about the experiences of a group of women victims of an online-dating scammer who goes by the name, Simon Leviev. ‘Simon’ poses as an Israeli billionaire diamond company heir.

“When I first talked with Simon, immediately we had a bond…He was smart and funny and very impulsive. I shared my whole heart with him. Then he asked me if I wanted to travel with him on a private jet,” women tell the camera in compiled interviews.

The teaser goes on to reveal how the conman, who has now gained worldwide attention and criticism, deceived the ladies that his life was in danger.

The solution? For his new lover to send him hefty sums of money to get him out of the life-threatening fix. He promised deceivingly he would refund the money sent.

Now, the show, reviewed widely, has been described by The Guardian as ‘the gobsmacking true internet story of an internet con artist’. The review goes on to say the story has many fascinating elements, discussing “the search for love online, internet cons and the magnetism of internet con artists who say just the right thing.”

“This gets to the heart of the horrifying emotional and financial damage these women endured and sustained. It also goes some way towards explaining how he got so many of them to fall for it.”

In Kenya, reactions have been diverse, with many poking humour at the story.

“Huyu Tinder Swindler angekuja Kenya he would be in for a rude shock. First date angekuwa ashaambiwa atume fare, credo na pesa za salon,” one Christine Natumoi wrote on Facebook.

The show’s name is not only trending at number one on Netflix locally, but it is also the hottest topic at the moment, with over 60,000 people writing about the film on Facebook and over 18,000 Tweets about the subject over the last 24 hours.

Kenyans have also written about their own experiences as the show continues to spark discussions on financial roles in relationships, lending in friendships as well as safety in online dating.

“I’m not even going to blame the women for what they did for Simon because due to societal pressure I almost married a man I was going to financially take care of until I came to my senses,” wrote a user going by Jammy Eljabry.

Njambi Likimani, a Facebook user said that Tinder Swindler reminded her of a time she was conned of over Sh700,000 by a young lady from a social justice group she supported.

“It got to a place when she had more of my money than I did. She had swindled me out of over $7,000 in a very short amount of time. The girl was clever… she would ask for the cash over the phone,” Likimani wrote on Facebook. 

Internet users locally debated on the different ways the same con story plays itself out in our society.

A Kenyan man, Mboya Orinda offered his insights on the matter on Facebook, sympathising with women who are coned and alleging that many married Kenyan ladies go through the same in their own homes.

“Many wives are still crying premium tears for loans they took for their husbands. Not once not twice. If you refuse you will be made to feel like a horrible wife who can’t support the husband’s dreams,” Orinda wrote.

He added: “Don’t say you can’t be scammed. You’re married to your scammer. You won’t leave him because your wedding vows made you swear that you will stick with him even if he drains your family resources.”

The story of being swindled by a lover is familiar in the Kenyan scene too. Now and then, such tales fall in the headlines. Now, they are much more relatable. Just last year in May, a Nairobi woman lost over Sh50,000 to her non-existent British boyfriend.

The con man pretended to send her an expensive package containing jewels and precious stones, one that she had to pick at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

The Standard reported the story at the time, noting that the UK-based scammer asked the 28-year-old lady to send money for ‘landing fee and clearance charges.’ She sent the money via phone, only for her mysterious internet boyfriend to vanish.

In June last year, another woman fell prey to a similar scam, losing Sh9 million. The victim allegedly met her Ghanaian love interest online. The man presented himself as a preacher who works miracles, promising her a promotion at work and financial stability if she got involved with him romantically.