The “Rich Guy” Lie - Why Tinder Swindlers and Romance Cons Work

The Tinder Swindler tells the unbelievable true story of how Simon Leviev pretended to be the son of a diamond billionaire to seduce women and get them to fund his expensive lifestyle. In recent years there’ve been many examples of similar romance scammers who use the promise of money and status to dupe women into relationships. So what is it about a seemingly wealthy man that blinds so many women to the facts in front of their eyes? It’s not fair to blame these victims or simply assume they’re shallow and materialistic when there’s a much bigger cultural problem at play here.


Why do women always fall for the rich guy – even when there are a lot of red flags he’s a total fraud? The Tinder Swindler tells the unbelievable true story of how Simon Leviev pretended to be the son of a diamond billionaire to seduce women and get them to fund his expensive lifestyle.

Pernilla Sjöholm: “Would it be possible for me to borrow $30,000? And I make a bank transfer while I’m on the phone with him.” - The Tinder Swindler

Surprisingly, after the film came out, the women he targeted faced a lot of criticism, as viewers felt they shouldn’t have fallen for what seemed like an obvious scam. But in recent years there’ve been many examples of similar romance scammers who use the promise of money and status to dupe women into relationships: the corrupt Italian surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who convinced journalist Benita Alexander their wedding would be officiated by The Pope; Richard Scott Smith, who posed as a successful real estate developer and pilot; or John Meehan, aka Dirty John, who lived a lie as a successful anesthesiologist in order to defraud designer Debra Newell.

Debra Newell: “Well he’s a nurse, and he has advanced anesthesiology training.” - Dirty John

People lost $1.3 billion to romance scams between 2017 and 2021, with total losses increasing each and every year. So what is it about a seemingly wealthy man that blinds so many women to the facts in front of their eyes? It’s not fair to blame these victims or simply assume they’re shallow and materialistic when there’s a much bigger cultural problem at play here.

Lorelei Lee: “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty. You might not marry a girl just for being pretty, but my goodness doesn’t it help?” - Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Here’s our take on how our culture has sold women a false dream of the luxurious Prince Charming, and whether we can collectively get over this dangerous fixation on the “rich guy” allure.

The Allure of the Rich Guy

The allure of the wealthy guy is deeply rooted in our culture. Classic Disney films — some of the first stories kids come into contact with — repeat the pattern of humble maidens obtaining an exciting, luxurious existence through marrying a rich Prince. Cecilie Fjellhøy, one of the Tinder Swindler’s victims, even cites Beauty and the Beast as the kind of story she grew up wanting to emulate

Cecilie Fjellhøy: “I had memorized the entire Beauty and the Beast cassette… It just sticks with you, like the feeling of a Prince coming to save you.” - The Tinder Swindler

Meanwhile, money inspires trust in us. Psychologist Dr. Peggy Sue Loroz attributes this to the “halo effect”, which posits that if we see one positive quality in someone — such as wealth — we’ll instinctively fill in the gaps; quote: “If we know someone’s successful, we might also assume they must be intelligent, fair-minded, and politically savvy.”

So scammers like Simon Leviev play-act a wealthy lifestyle in order to project an aura of importance. When Simon first meets Cecilie he whisks her away on a private jet while also acting very busy with urgent work.

By investing in creating a first impression of ultra-elite status, he quickly earns a woman’s trust and affection – so that even after obvious red flags pop up, she’s primed to still believe in her initial image of him.

Cecilie Fjellhøy: “You trust me and I trust you, so of course we’re gonna help each other. It wasn’t even a question.” - The Tinder Swindler

Pernilla, another featured victim in The Tinder Swindler, doesn’t romantically fall for Simon like Cecile, but she’s still convinced of his authority because his story seems to check out online.

And since he treats her to the perks of his lavish lifestyle before asking for anything, that authority appears confirmed to her. “Dirty John” uses a similar technique to convince Debra Newell – first making claims online, and then backing them up with apparent evidence in person, like turning up to functions in his medical scrubs and acting authoritative about his line of work.

Journalist Benita Alexander first met Paolo Macchiarini, the subject of the Dr. Death podcast’s third season, on a documentary being made about him – so again this authority he had from the start of their relationship completely shaped how she saw him.

Benita Alexander: “He had this nickname that he was a rock star surgeon and a super surgeon, and I think that came from the fact that he was willing to take risks. He was a cowboy.” - True Lies

Bad Vegan tells the story of a stranger romance con – how Anthony Strangis convinced successful restaurant owner Sarma Melngailis to wire him over a million dollars, using otherworldly narratives like that he would make her dog immortal. But again, she trusted him in part because he made her believe he was very rich, and she thought he was legit because he seemed connected online to her famous friend, Alec Baldwin

The Regular Woman Savior Narrative

In addition to all the rich guy worship, our culture bombards us with stories about successful, but broken men who yearn for a good woman to save them.

Cecilie Fjellhøy: “She’s this small town girl like me hoping for something bigger. She meets this person, then she saves him in a sense.” - The Tinder Swindler

In 50 Shades of Grey, hot, wealthy tycoon Christian Grey is privately a suffering mess, so he chooses “regular girl” Ana because only she gets how to fulfill his emotional needs

In About a Boy, Will is financially set for life, but his life is empty until he takes on a quasi-parental role to a boy named Marcus and meets his love interest, Rachel.

In Indecent Proposal, billionaire John Gage is so captivated by Diana that he offers her $1 million dollars to spend the night with him. But he can’t buy her heart away from the husband she really loves – and we’re left with the sense that a good woman’s love is worth more than all the money in the world

John Gage: “She never would have looked at me the way she did at him.” - Indecent Proposal

At the end of The Social Network, the irony is that Mark Zuckerberg has built extraordinary wealth with a social network that supposedly brings people together, but is completely alone himself, refreshing his own website for updates about his ex-girlfriend. And similarly in Cinema Paradiso, Toto may be a successful filmmaker who’s romanced a string of beautiful women, but he still feels empty and pines over his young love Elena — the one who got away

In The Tinder Swindler, Simon skillfully manipulates his victims into seeing themselves in this “female savior” role. Simon pretended he had everything financially, but the other piece of his narrative was to appear vulnerable, so the women could help him.

Simon Leviev: “I wanted to ask you a favor. If you have an American Express credit card, I can link it to my account.” - The Tinder Swindler

The part of Simon’s scam that’s become the biggest joke is the constant vague talk about his “enemies,” and the photograph of his beaten-up bodyguard Peter to convince his marks he’s under threat. But while it seems funny from the outside, by this point in the relationship, his victims are completely ready to step into that familiar cultural narrative of becoming his rescuer.

Scam Culture

As long as the internet has existed, there have been scams defrauding people with the promise of making them rich. A lot of them seem obvious if you step back and think.

Honey: “Maybe I should feel weird about giving a guy my social security number, but the guy’s a Nigerian prince.” - How I Met Your Mother

But people fall for these scams because they play on emotion, appeal to our biases, and apply pressure to rush us into split-second decisions.

One of the reasons romance scams work so well is that dating apps already create a similar environment. Obviously people bring strong emotion to the prospect of finding love or attraction, while quick swiping and fast-paced conversations encourage instant decisions. A 2016 study also showed that Tinder users had lower self-esteem and more shame around their bodies, so these apps create a vulnerability there to be exploited

Cecilie Fjellhøy: “The most important thing that you can have is a picture of your face, and then you have a picture with friends, because it’s important to show that you’re social as well.” - The Tinder Swindler

Forensic psychologist Dr. Joni Johnston writes, “It’s emotions and unmet needs that make us vulnerable to romance scams, not logic. It’s not how smart we are. It’s how successful we are at preventing our feelings from driving our decisions,”

Simon Leviev hooked his victims with the textbook love bombing playbook: showering them with expensive gestures and sweeping them off their feet with fast declarations of commitment so they’d feel too attached to respond rationally when he suddenly became demanding and distant.

To this day, despite the huge reach of the The Tinder Swindler documentary, Leviev is apparently continuing to leverage the smoke and mirrors of the internet to project his image of luxury and find women willing to trust in him

Simon Leviev: “I’m not this monster that everybody has created… They weren’t conned and they weren’t threatened.” - The Tinder Swindler

Even when the internet’s not involved, the Rich Guy’s money can easily be used as a smokescreen for getting away with bad behavior.

It’s documented that high-earning men are more likely to cheat. Blue Jasmine’s story of a Bernie Madoff-esque financial crook and his wife who looks the other way captures how wrong it often is to blindly put our faith in wealthy men, while looking down on working-class men who make an honest living

As The Tinder Swindler and all these other stories show us, worshiping money and lusting after luxury are not the ideal tenets of romance that we should be subscribing to in this day and age.


We’re at a tipping point when it comes to the rich guy in our culture. Not only can a performative lavish lifestyle feel completely out of touch in today’s unequal environment, but we’re also becoming more discerning about where a lot of that wealth has come from.

Robert Reich: “Billionaires themselves aren’t the problem. The real failure is in how our economy is organized.”

There’s something telling about the fact that The Tinder Swindler’s most popular hero was probably Ayleen, his victim who retaliated by taking direct, gleeful, financial revenge. The rich guy may once have been the ultimate prize, but now, it feels like we’re ready to see him get taken down.

Ayleen Charlotte: “The prince of diamonds to this homeless king. Cry me a river.” - The Tinder Swindler


Fletcher, Emma. “Reports of Romance Scams Hit Record Highs in 2021.” Federal Trade Commission, 10 Feb. 2022

Watts, Sarah. “Our Brains Trick Us Into Trusting Rich People. Here’s How.” Forbes, 14 Feb. 2019

Schenkman, Lauren. “​​Why We Fall for Phishing Emails — And How We Can Protect Ourselves.” TED, 30 Jan. 2020

Oaklander, Mandy. “Study: Tinder Users Have Lower Self-Esteem.” Time, 5 Aug. 2016

Dziemianowicz, Joe. “These Are Reasons Why Women—And Men—Are Vulnerable To Deadly Romance Scams.” Oxygen, 6 Jul. 2021