Cecilie Fjellhøy
Dating

“The Tinder Swindler was my boyfriend”: Cecilie Fjellhøy on falling for the infamous Simon Leviev

In 2018, Cecilie Fjellhøy fell in love with Simon Leviev, a self-professed diamond heir. Here, she reveals how she fell victim to his elaborate playboy scam.       

I’m a sucker for old-fashioned romance, so in some ways I was the perfect victim.

It was 2018 and London still felt new; I’d moved here from my hometown of Oslo six months earlier to study for a master’s degree. I was 29, wanting to meet people and have that big-city experience, but it was difficult to make friends. I felt pretty isolated, in a new country, speaking a new language and dealing with the pressures of studying and working a part-time job. My usual support network was so far away.

One Saturday night in January that year, I was scrolling through Tinder thinking: “It would be really nice to meet someone.” I’d describe myself as a Tinder expert at that point: I’d met two of my exes on dating apps, both awesome guys. Back in Norway, most of the men are similar (outdoorsy, spend their weekends in the mountains), but in London you meet so many different kinds of people. So when I came across the profile of a man called Simon, his pictures full of expensive cars and private jets, I was intrigued but not surprised. You see that kind of thing much more here: wealthy businesspeople touching down in London for meetings and then dashing off again.

I swiped right and we matched. One of my first questions was about his flashy lifestyle he was showing off so freely – wasn’t he worried about the kind of people he would attract? “This is my life,” he told me. “The person I’m going to be with should know exactly who I am.” Those words couldn’t have been further from the truth.

We switched to WhatsApp and he told me he was leaving London the next day, but he had time to meet for a drink in his hotel beforehand. I love talking to people and he seemed like an interesting, well-travelled guy, so I thought why not? I took my laptop with the plan to write some of my thesis over a coffee after he left.

You may also like

“How I stopped being a #GirlBoss and learned to judge my happiness on more than my productivity”

When the elevator doors opened in the lobby of the Four Seasons on Park Lane and this handsome, well-dressed guy stepped out, I was impressed. He was really funny and didn’t take himself too seriously; we got on right away. I remember thinking he was so open, mentioning that he had a young daughter and telling me about his travels around the world as the ‘prince of diamonds’. He said he was the son of Lev Leviev, a (very real) Israeli diamond mogul and billionaire. It was all fascinating, but felt like worlds away from my reality – until he asked me to join him.

“Me and my team are flying to Sofia today. Do you want to come?” he said. My heart was racing. How many times do you get the opportunity to fly on a private jet? I got this sense from him that he was trustworthy, and he mentioned that it would be a whole gang of people, so it felt safe. We went to meet his ‘team’ for lunch, including his bodyguard, Peter; his business partner; his drivers; and, bizarrely, his ex-partner and their young daughter. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and the next thing I knew we were heading to the airport to fly to Bulgaria.

It’s mind-boggling to me when people say, “Why did you trust him?” How often have you met someone and questioned if they are who they say they are? There were so many moments that convinced me, so many details he’d thought of. At the airport he handed me the stack of everyone’s passports to hold – I think he does these checks on potential victims early on, probably to see if you’re the kind of person who’ll snoop. All that went through my mind was: “Wow, he obviously trusts me.” Now I know that if I’d just opened his passport then, I would’ve seen that it was a fake with a completely different name than the one he’d given me. I would have saved myself years of pain.

Tinder Swindler Shimon Hayut arrested
Simon Leviev, whose real name is Shimon Hayut, was arrested in Greece in 2019 but only served five months in jail

Lies and lovebombing

During that flight to Sofia, I was wowed. Simon was clearly a great dad and enjoyed spending time playing and talking to his daughter, which was endearing. He was really tactile with me, which I loved – my love language is touch. We were flirting a lot and I was just fascinated by him. I think you get overwhelmed by people who are ambitious and successful, yet still kind. During the time we were together, I remember speaking to one of his drivers and he told me, “Simon is such a great guy, he always invites me out with him for dinner – he’s so different from the other people I’ve worked for.” Even his ex sang his praises when we met in the hotel.

Simon and I spent an amazing night together in Sofia, and the next day he booked me a ticket back to London. When I told my friends back in Norway about my adventure, they couldn’t believe it – they thought I was crazy and said I could have been kidnapped, but none of that had crossed my mind.

At this point, I really liked him, but I was trying to be realistic. I’d gone on plenty of dates with busy men who travel a lot only to later realise they didn’t have much time for me. But Simon kept reaching out, asking how I was and sending cute videos of himself in hotel rooms. There was a lot of lovebombing, though I didn’t know that phrase at the time. When he was back in London we’d see each other, and I went to stay with him in an apartment he said he owned in Amsterdam. I was never really into driving around in his fancy cars, going for expensive dinners and spending thousands at nightclubs – the things he spent most of his time doing. Instead, I’d ask him to come over and we’d stay in for a taco night. In those moments, he was just Simon – the guy I was falling in love with.

Looking back, his constant availability to me was clearly a red flag, but at the time I just felt special. No matter when I called, he’d pick up, and he’d remember tiny little things I’d say to him. He was a true professional because I didn’t have a clue that he was doing the same thing with many other women simultaneously – not once did he slip up with names or leave a hairband lying around.

A still from Netflix's Tinder Swindler documentary
Three of Shimon's victims, including Cecilie and Pernilla Sjoholm, have joined forces to expose his crimes

The crisis call

Three months in, things started to get scary. Simon was opening up to me about his family and the high stakes of the diamond world, expertly weaving in what I now know is his lived experience – growing up in Israel under a strict father – while building the character of Lev Leviev’s son. He’d send me articles about the family business that tied in with stories he’d told me, and soon he was sharing the death threats he’d received from ‘enemies’ who wanted to take him down to get to his fortune. Late one night, I saw a WhatsApp message: “Peter, hurt.” There were pictures of the bodyguard I’d met on that first day covered in blood, videos of the two of them in an ambulance. I was absolutely terrified for Simon.

From then on, the atmosphere of fear ramped up. He told me he couldn’t use his cards or book things under his own name anymore, as it would be too easy to trace him. He asked if he could use my credit card, and at that point I felt he’d been so generous – how could I say no to a request from my boyfriend when his safety was at risk? I thought, ‘My God, we’re in a crisis, of course I’ll help’. There was no worry that I would have to pay off the credit he was spending – this was a very rich man, and he’d promised to transfer the money back quickly.

But every time he tried to send me money to cover the debts he was racking up in my name, something went wrong. There was always a feasible explanation; for example, one time I showed staff at American Express the transfer he was trying to make, and they told me the amount was too high and it would bounce back. He’d lie and say, “Ah yes, I can see the money’s come back into my account, I’ll try a different route,” and right there he’d bought himself a few more days.

By this point he was using several credit cards in my name, and putting pressure on me to call up the banks every day and increase the credit limit – he said it was a matter of life or death, that he and his team needed plane tickets and cash to stay on the move and keep safe. He’d send me voice notes sounding so panicked and stressed, but he also kept telling me that we were in this together, that it was us against the world. It was all-consuming, like I was on a wheel that I couldn’t jump off, and the more debt there was, the more I had to cling on to Simon as my only way out.

The truth is, questions did arise in my mind throughout those months we were together. But there was always a counterargument: what about all those people I’d met who knew him, who’d vouched for him? What about the family picture I’d seen of him and his father? Your brain holds on tight to those things because it feels more far-fetched to wonder if it was all a lie.

Weeks later, when I still hadn’t received any money from Simon and the banks were really coming after me, I started to feel physically ill. I told him how scared I was, how I’d run out of means to help him and I was in serious trouble. When I look back at the messages I wrote to him at that time, I see the words of a desperate woman. His demeanour completely changed, and he had no empathy at all; the charming, funny guy I knew was gone. That was when I called American Express and said I suspected I’d been scammed. Within an hour, someone was at my house, and within two hours, I’d learned there was no such person as Simon Leviev.

The Tinder Swindler
The Tinder Swindler is now a major documentary

Facing the facts

The truth, I discovered, was that I’d been defrauded out of more than £188,000 by a career criminal called Shimon Hayut, who was known to authorities around the world. He’d been briefly jailed in Finland for defrauding three Finnish women back in 2015, but it seemed like no one bothered to try and stop him from doing it again. He was never in one place long enough and he knew exactly how the system operated, how easy it was to book flights and hotel rooms and VIP tables with other people’s credit cards.

Coming to terms with the fact that the man I loved was never real was incredibly tough, and then there were the creditors demanding money I didn’t have. It was a horrible time, and when I called my mum to explain, she told me to come home to Norway straight away. I couldn’t see a way out. I was having frightening thoughts – I’d be driving down the highway and thinking it could all be over if I just swerved off. I was so low, it scared me. As a result, I spent three weeks in a psychiatric hospital to work through it all. I had so many questions going around my head: who were his ‘team’ and how much did they know? How could this happen to me? How do I get justice?

Though I’ve done a lot of self-reflection, I’m still looking for an answer to that final question. The authorities were more concerned with how much money I owed than anything else – what he did hasn’t been treated as a crime so I’m still bankrupt in the UK and working to pay off the debts he racked up in my name. Despite me and two of his other victims teaming up with journalists to get some answers and demand that Simon be held accountable and a Netflix documentary film based on our story raising awareness, in 2022 he’s still out there living this champagne lifestyle. Meanwhile my life has been financially destroyed, and my character has been assassinated: the amount of hate and shame and victim-blaming I’ve had to deal with is crazy – people telling me I’m just a golddigger who deserves what I got. Who has ever heard of a bankrupt golddigger?

I want people to get mad. To recognise that there are so many victims of fraud out there; maybe not with quite as spectacular stories, and maybe not willing to tie their names and faces to these stories forever, but they are out there. I get messages from people thanking me for speaking out, for continuing to fight for justice and more robust fraud checks that will make it harder for these things to happen again.

I know a lot of people will use my story as a warning about the dangers of online dating. But the fact is, I could have met Simon in any one of the bars or hotels where he hung out – it’s not Tinder we should be worried about. If anything, it’s the fact that someone can cheat and lie and live off others in plain sight and get away with it. That’s the horror story.

Images: Cecilie Fjellhøy, Tore Kristiansen/AFP via Getty, Netflix

You may also like

“My secret life as a female spy”: what happened when Stylist met MI5 agent Jen