Con Artist: Lessons from The Tinder Swindler
Have you seen The Tinder Swindler documentary on Netflix? If you haven’t, I recommend it especially if you’re in the UK and passing the time before the next storm hits. For those of us who have seen it, maybe we’ve gone a lil’ bit Judge Judy on these women, asking how could they fall for something so obvious? Let’s not forget that we do this with the benefit of oversight and also from the comfort of watching this happen to other people. This was certainly how the conversation went when I watched it because the person I watched it with couldn’t believe the audacity of Simon (the Tinder Swindler con artist) and also how the women didn’t question why such a big shot diamond dealer would be on Tinder, which to him was the biggest red flag of all. To me, the biggest red flag was Simon’s love of turtlenecks! I don’t trust a man in one, but that is another matter.
If we are honest with ourselves, most of us can say that we have all fallen victim to a con artist and have been scammed. Maybe not scammed out of 6 figures or years of our life, but have we not all fallen prey to some kind of emotional con artist? A fuck boy, a cheater, a liar, been the unwitting side chick, been betrayed by a friend? Scams come in all shapes and sizes but they have one thing in common; confidence. The ‘con’ in con artist is short for confidence. What a con artist wants even more than the thing that they are getting from you is the thrill that they have convinced you to believe in them. I have so much to say on the documentary so let’s go through it bit by bit, picking out the red flags.
The first thing that struck me was his Tinder profile. Besides the incredibly douchey pictures, the red flag for me was that his entire biography was his instagram link. That right there told me all that I needed to know because from the jump, his whole appeal was based on image and appearances. I’ll admit that I did not start out on the side of the female victims. I do not mean that I was Team Swindler but more that I could spot things about the victims that made them highly susceptible to the con and therefore, prime targets. For example, the Norwegian girl Cecilie presents as though she was looking for someone to save her. She spoke of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and of being swept away when she meets someone. When we come from a place of “take me away!”, we become susceptible to people with bad intentions because they can smell weakness. Desperation is a pretty pungent smell. If you are looking for love there is a way to date from a position of being enough; wanting to meet someone and not needing to meet someone. As someone who has dated during awesome times of high self esteem and during times of self loathing and anxiety, I swear that self esteem makes all the difference. I looked the same both times, had the same successes in my life but I was insecure and I am sure that guys could sense that from a mile off. Do not date until you feel good about you.
My impression of Cecilie was that she was always on the hunt and needed to meet a man because she wasn’t super good on her own. I’m not judging, we have all been here. I mention this as I think that laid the foundation for her to be conned. The reason I wasn’t Team Victim and the whole reason that she went all gooey-eyed over him was because he was flexing so hard – the private jets, the designer clothes, the hotels, the champagne. She tried to downplay it by saying it would be “cool” to experience that. Lady, who are you trying to fool here? You were super liking and power swiping on that guy because of the lifestyle that you wanted an entry into. My question to these women would be why they hated the player when they played the game? Playing devil’s advocate, they went into this with (let’s be honest here) an intent to be a gold digger and they got played back. If you’re not there for the right reasons, you can’t really be mad when you discover that they’re not either. That said, I do think that what happened to these women is egregious, and getting what you deserved might normally mean something like being ignored rather than being taken for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
So, just how did they fall for this? When you strip it down to its bare bones, there is one thing that the swindler did that raised my suspicion from the outset – he was a very, very good and attentive listener. He really listened. He asked lots and lots and lots of questions, focusing his entire attention onto the victim. This achieves two things; firstly, each women feels flattered and thinks how wonderful it was to find a guy so openly interested in them ; and secondly, if they occupy you with talking all about you, they do not have to reveal anything about themselves. This. Is. Grooming. 101. Unless you listen to your victim and learn about what makes them tick, how do you know how to victimise them? Unless you encourage someone tell you their traumas, fears, and hopes, how can you press on them? You need to install the buttons before you can push them. This is toxic and confusing because quality people who want to get to know you also listen to you. How on earth do you tell the difference?
There are a few signs. Asking all about you is not a sign in itself but when coupled with what I am about to share with you, it creates a kind of dark alchemy and situation where you are operating without logic and solely through feeling. Let’s dive in.
- Pity – I’ve spoken in previous posts about the multitude of studies that exist on sociopathy and what it is that a sociopath most wants from you. What they desire above all else is pity. Yes, pity. Pity makes us very malleable, which in turn makes us inclined to put up with a lot and believe a lot when we feel sorry for someone. Con artists take advantage of your empathy and generosity by weaponising it against you. They entice you to want to take care of them by victimising themselves.
- Fast forwarding – Not only do con artists ask a lot about you, they move the relationship forward very quickly. In other words, they fast track you through what would usually be the organic bond building that you go through when getting to know someone. What did the swindler do very quickly? ‘Let’s move in together!’, ‘Let’s have a baby!’, ‘I’ll fly you out to meet me for our first date!’ This is what psychologists call the Swept Away phenomenon, where you get caught up in the moment and actually, most unplanned pregnancies are attributed to this! Swept Away denies us the space for our logic to catch up and our ability to question what is going on. When we think of being swept away, perhaps we need to ask ourselves what it is that we need to be swept away from? Always be aware of your own weak spots because you can bet that a con artist already knows them.
- Extravagant and elaborate stories – How many times did the swindler say the phrase, “I have enemies”. Let us consider this for a moment, if Elon Musk or Vladimir Putin do not have this many enemies, then why would this relative nobody have them? The whole world was seemingly after him and there was only one person that could help him, whichever hapless romantic he happened to be hustling at the time. Yes he sells diamonds and it is reputed to be a shady industry but ask yourself, wouldn’t his security team take care of his safety? If you want my honest opinion here, no alpha male (and I mean alpha in the true, positive sense and not the Kevin Samuels misogynistic edit) would ever ask a woman that they just started dating or had been dating for a while for money. Never! Would you? I would rather sleep on a park bench than ask a man for money. It gives me tingles to even think about this because find it horrific. I will figure things out myself. Why is this significant? Men are biologically hardwired to mate, to reproduce and to be providers. No quality man is going to come at you in such a weak way. He will be figuring shit out on his own and will not be saying things like, ‘I need to borrow $50,000’. Are you kidding me?
- Pressure – there is an overall sense of urgency. Everything with this dude was urgent. From, ‘Let’s meet right now!’ after the first couple of texts in Tinder to, ‘My enemies are coming, we gotta do this now!’ everything was now, now, now, now, now! When there is a sense of urgency, the amygdala in our brain gets activated, which is the seat of our fight, flight, freeze response. This does not give us time to consider our response or deliberate rationally, we have to respond NOW. It is hard in such circumstances to think in a logical way and so you end up producing a quick response based on the perception of imminent danger or imminent loss. The swindler spent the first month of the con doing what con artists refer to as ‘Wetting the beak”. He gave the mark a taste of being driven around in a Bentley, flying on a private jet etc to whet their appetite for the lifestyle and to create a basis of belief. When he flipped the script and began to apply the pressure, the victims had a foundation on which to base their beliefs and all of the information that they needed to convince themselves. They had formed an attachment to the lifestyle and to the swindler in terms of what he had shown them up to that point, which meant that they would give him money if it meant returning to that which they were already accustomed.
What can we call all of this? Love bombing. Love bombing is the preferred tactic of a narcissist and indeed a con artist. We might mistake a narcissist for someone who thinks a lot of themselves, but that is the false self. A narcissist typically has low self esteem and will seek to reinvent themselves. They have to inflate themselves and denigrate others at the same time. They have to latch on to others and syphon off their self esteem for themselves. A narcissist has to build you up (the idealisation phase) before they devalue you. This shift in gear is inevitable. The way that the swindler did it with these women was to harass and belittle them if they questioned why he repeatedly needed money. It goes to the heart of who you are if you disappoint someone who then says, ‘I thought you were a good person!’
Forget about con artists for just one moment and let’s look at how easily this can happen to us in the form of a fuck boy. If you consider why you keep letting someone back in time and again, isn’t there an element of pity or something similar to it? When I think back to the biggest fuck boy I have known, I felt sorry for him in that I saw the best in him . He appealed to a soft spot I had for wanting to see the best in someone and for the potential that he had rather than seeing who he really was. What if we approached dating not by how sweet someone can be (because even Hitler could be sweet) but rather by the things that do not add up; the inconsistencies, the lies, the ghosting or the good ol’ disappearing/reappearing stunt. Are these not more relevant data points than someone telling you how beautiful you are? You should already know that and if you don’t know it, get to know it! Hopefully the worst thing that you discover about someone is that they clap when the plane lands! You can change that but you risk losing yourself if you try to change a con artist.
And where is the Tinder Swindler now? Living his life and probably dreaming up his next con because the one truth about a con artist is that they do not change. He is out of prison after a mere 5 months, he is the subject of a Netflix documentary, he has a girlfriend and a website offering business advice for an oddly specific fee of $311. The audacity! See, we are back to the con-fidence in con artist again. I’m curious about the fee amount. Perhaps 311 is some kind of Bat signal for all douches out there? Meanwhile, these women are still paying off their debts. I urge you to see someone like a con artist as useful in that they are a big shiny symbol of what people are capable of. These are not people to be glorified and yet our society does just that. Deep down, on some level it is human nature to want to rise to the top, to win, a free lunch, a trip on a private jet or a verified Instagram account. We cannot sit in judgement on these women because there but for the grace of God go you and I. We cannot for one minute think that we are invulnerable to people like this because that is exactly when we are at our most vulnerable. Never be afraid to ask the hard questions because someone with nothing to hide will hide nothing.