Julie* had known her dating app match for a week when they had their first date in the bar of a central London hotel.
She believed he was a successful banker who was falling head over heels in love with her. But, during their three-month relationship, the 31-year-old was duped out of £65,000 as she found herself the victim of an audacious dating con that, like the victims in Netflix’s wildly popular documentary The Tinder Swindler, saw her lose everything to a stranger who promised her the world.
The Tinder Swindler, which documents how Simon Leviev allegedly used an extravagant fake lifestyle to dupe women out of small fortunes, has clocked up 45 million viewing hours since it dropped on 2 February.
At the same time that Leviev was being convicted of fraud, theft and forgery in 2019, Julie was calling time on her own conman after they matched on a vetted site in July earlier that year.
She explains, “I was ready to settle down. He was a professional who claimed to want the same things. He was cultured, well-travelled, educated and interested in my life, values and upbringing. Now, I know he was using that information to manipulate me. At the time, he was charming.”
The first red flag was almost instant, according to Julie: “We messaged non-stop. One of the first things he said was that he’d used a different profile name so people couldn’t look him up. He told me his real name was Nick and showed me links to Forbes articles that listed him as a high-flyer. I respected his desire for privacy. It never crossed my mind that he was lying.”
They soon moved their conversation on to WhatsApp, exchanging photos and spending hours on phone calls. Two days before their first date, he claimed he’d lost his wallet at a party, sending photos from the night which later transpired to be years old.
Julie offered to lend him £200. She paid their £75 bar bill and the £300-a-night, five-star hotel room they checked into after the date: “He charmed everyone, even the barman seemed to know him. Our date was amazing, sparks had flown all week.”
Over the next three months, the stakes in their emotionally-charged relationship were raised.
Fraudulent charges for European hotel stays, designer clothes and nights out appeared on her credit card. ‘Nick’– which she later discovered was an alias – said he had been scammed too, claiming their cards must have been cloned during another hotel stay. He showed her pictures of a house he’d bought but made excuses when she planned to visit. He invited her on a Mauritius holiday he’d won at a charity event but said it had been cancelled at the last minute.
His most callous deceit came when he claimed his six-year-old nephew – a boy he had shared photos of – had died suddenly, abroad, asking for £1,000 for a same-day flight.
“Everything was urgent, life or death. Everything had a viable explanation. He’d say his new card hadn’t arrived or money hadn’t landed in his account when he was about to miss a flight or a deadline so I’d send it to another account. He always said he’d pay me back. I had no reason to believe he couldn’t.”
He sent pictures and fake pins as he ‘travelled.’ When news reports showed civil unrest in the country where he’d grown up, he concocted a story about having to urgently travel there to get his younger brother out.
“I believed we were in love,” Julie explains. “This man had said he wanted children with me. I wanted to help him. When I looked back, his lies were right there in front of me.”