‘The Tinder Swindler’, a captivating true-crime thriller with a cautionary message about online love – and a major sting in its tail

Lover boy: Alleged diamond mogul Simon Leviev is the unwitting star of the true-crime documentary ‘The Tinder Swindler’.

THE TINDER SWINDLER ***1/2 (113 minutes) M
Paced like a high-end mystery thriller, The Tinder Swindler is the latest five-alarm warning about the perils of looking for love online, a compelling true-crime cautionary tale with a major sting in its tail.

Directed by Felicity Morris, who gave us the captivating Don’t F*** With Cats (here’s a review), the story that unfolds here is distressingly familiar: women hoping to find a fairy-tale romance through a dating app become ensnared in a major catfishing expedition by a conscience-free predator skilled in the art of seduction and fraud.

Detailing their encounters with an online Romeo called Simon Leviev, two women describe how the supposed diamond billionaire used his charm and their gullibility to put them through a harrowing, nightmarish, life-altering experience that underscores the eternal wisdom of that ancient proverb “Never lend nothing to nobody without a contract”. Otherwise, you’re just giving money away. Literally.

Exposing the creep is clearly the main purpose of the film, yet there is a distinct double-edge to the message and meaning of The Tinder Swindler.

With almost every move the shyster took documented on text and video, the film shows both how skilled an operator he was and how naïve and unquestioning his victims were.

And, as the film implies, it’s not a benefit-of-hindsight thing.

Falling in love tends to transport people into a state of euphoria, a glorious feeling that alleviates all of life’s everyday tensions as it unshackles them from the bothersome inconvenience of reality.

But when somebody, even somebody you love, suddenly starts hitting you for huge amounts of money that they promise to pay back, that’s when the lizard brain should cut through all the fairy tale crap and send up a red flag the size of God’s doona.

It’s not fair to blame these women for the mess they found themselves in. The film reveals in explicit detail how they were targets of a confidence trickster who knew how to manipulate Google Search to his advantage, so that when his victims inevitably checked out the story he was feeding them, the internet would verify he was telling them the truth.

And while it’s a ripping yarn that leads to his tracking down and arrest, thanks largely to the article The Tinder Swindler published by the leading Norwegian news outlet VG, the finale is as startling as it is sobering.

As a series of captions tell us how each of the players in this saga of seduction, extortion, desperation and deception played out, it affirms just how far legislation lags behind the new breed of crimes born of the internet.

Seems that predators who lie in wait online looking to prey on the vulnerable have plenty of scope to do their dirty work while their victims are left to spend the rest of their lives paying the price of falling in love with the wrong person.