Think You Couldn’t Be Duped By a Con Artist? Think Again.
The Netflix Documentary The Tender Swindler Shows Just How Far Cons Can Go
The Tinder Swindler, a Netflix documentary, about Shimun Hayut (aka Simon Leviev) has captivated us as we witness this conman lie and swindle everyone he meets. Women were his favorite prey.
Like many predators, Hayut had a knack for spotting women he could manipulate. It’s not that Leviev’s victims were gullible or “should have known better.” He just had the ace in the hole; there was no line he wasn’t willing to cross to get what he wanted. He would lie, cheat, steal, scheme, and deceive, all the while whitewashing it with a thick coat of charm. He didn’t care who he hurt or how much.
“It Could Never Happen to Me”
Why do we so often give victims the side-eye? Maybe it’s comforting to think that they are different from us. We are immune to deception and exploitation. No one could dupe us.
Trust me. If you think you can spot a psychopath before one gets close enough to strike, you may be engaging in a dangerous form of self-delusion. I’ve seen the toughest of the tough — custody officers, attorneys, police officers — fall like the last domino.
Are some of us easier to fool than others? Undoubtedly, some of us can be fooled longer. In my experience, we are most vulnerable when we have unmet emotional needs, emotional needs that we all have but that fluctuate in intensity depending on how deprived we are or how uncertain our situation. It has nothing to do with intelligence.
“I’m Counting on Your Kindness”
Con artists count on our basic human decency working against us. They also rely on us using one of the basic tenets of psychology; the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. We develop certain expectations about people based on how they have been in the past. When someone we think we know does something unexpected. We look for a logical explanation.
We think, “This is not the person I know and love. Something must have happened.” Because it’s out of character, we look for situational explanations for that person’s behavior, making it more likely we’ll believe whatever line of bullshi*t they’re giving us — at least for a while.
Crazy Theories Are Sometimes True
Think of Hayut’s strategy. He meets someone through Tinder or another dating app. He is charming, well-spoken, worldly. He pretends to be the son of an Israeli diamond billionaire. He goes to extraordinary lengths to keep up this persona. He shows up for dates with bodyguards and an entourage. He whisks his victims away on private planes to posh hotels.
He gradually earns their affection and admiration. And then he turns the tables. Suddenly he is the one who needs your help. He is in danger, scared, vulnerable. His competitors are threatening him. He even sends you a video of one of his security guards getting attacked.
Now, under those circumstances, which is the “crazier” explanation? One, the person you’ve come to love and trust, who has demonstrated over and over that he is who he says, is in a jam. Or, two, that he created this elaborate, premeditated scheme, during which he spent enormous time, energy, and money, to trick and defraud you. Does number two sound like a conspiracy theory or what?
The Curse of the Confident “Psychopath”
I have never met or evaluated Shimun Hayut, so I certainly can’t diagnose him. What I can say is he behaved like a psychopath. His pattern of deceit, manipulativeness, apparent indifference to the consequences of his actions, superficial charm, lack of empathy, and lack of remorse are all behaviors that certainly head us in that direction.
But that’s playing Monday morning quarterback. Many successful business owners and CEOs share many of the qualities Hayut demonstrated in his interactions with his victims. They are charming. Bold. Charismatic. They can read people’s strengths and weaknesses. Some have a very high opinion of themselves. But, for most, that’s where the resemblance ends. They may use these qualities to further their success, but they aren’t leaving a trail of broken hearts and empty pocketbooks behind.
From what Hayut’s victims have said, he used his interpersonal skills to assess the psyches of his potential victims and manipulate those he chose by feeding them purposefully crafted messages. He told them what he thought they wanted to hear and adjusted his strategy based on their responses. His goal was to build a bond and maintain control of the relationship. When he’d gotten what he wanted, he skipped out and went on to the next victim.
How to Avoid Falling Victim to a Con Artist
Yes, there are some early red flags in relationships. We should all know them. But because the best predators can pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, I think it’s more important to have respect for our wisdom as well as that of the friends and family who love us. For starters:
- When you meet someone you’re interested in, don’t share too much, too soon, or move too fast. Few people ever lament that they went too slowly in a new relationship. But the heartache (and worse) I’ve seen from jumping heart first into a commitment; well, that’s a whole book that needs writing.
- Watch out for the sympathy ploy. Never part with your personal information or money at the start of a new relationship. You can offer support without putting yourself at risk.
- Stay connected to your friends and family and keep them in the loop about what’s going on. They can be objective and offer perspective to help you stay true to yourself.
- Trust your gut. It’s been with you since you were born and rarely lies. Warning; if you find yourself hiding information about your new beau because you’re afraid of what they might think, it’s time to do some serious soul searching.
- Trust is not a zero-sum game. People earn our trust by acting and keeping it by doing the same. Some people can keep up a façade for months. You’re not at fault for not seeing behind it. But once that façade starts to slip, don’t second guess yourself or make excuses for bad behavior.
- If you suspect anything shady or criminal, keep a record of all communications. Never put yourself in danger.
The Bottom Line
Author Beau Taplin once said, “Some people are magic, and others are just the illusion of it.” At the beginning of a relationship, it’s hard to tell which a person is.
Give yourself the time and space to find out.
Originally published at https://www.psychologytoday.com.