The global hit Netflix documentary Tinder Swindler has sparked massive debate and interest around the lies and swindling of Simon Leviev, with many commenting that “the women should have known better”.
However, psychiatrist Prof Renata Schoeman, Head of the MBA Health Care Leadership programme at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) says it’s not as straightforward as assuming the women were merely gullible.
The exploitative tactics used by Leviev, real name Shimon Hayut, to identify vulnerable targets and his predatory drive for domination, financial extortion and deceit, indicates psychopathic behaviour.
“It’s enormously difficult to catch a psychopath in the act. They are pathological liars and purposefully deceive people to conceal their modus operandi. They strategically plan their deceitful stories and use their superficial charm to get one addicted, leaving you doubting your valid suspicions and ending up as the victim.”
Prof Schoeman points out that psychopaths are ruthless when pursuing something that they want, without any concern for those around them.
“They are very status conscious and their behaviour involves extreme egocentricity, severe lack of empathy for the feelings of others and a willingness to engage in immoral behaviour for short-term gains, exploiting others while doing so.
“Many will claim that something similar could never happen to them, yet cases such as these are not as uncommon as we think. Psychopathic behaviour is also not only reserved for romantic encounters; psychopaths stalk office corridors too, with lasting mental health impacts on their victims.
“The manipulation, deception, inflated self-opinion and back-stabbing of the corporate psychopath can cause work-related depression, anxiety disorders, burnout and physical illnesses; conditions which cost the South African economy more than R40-billion annually,” Prof Schoeman said.
She said that Leviev’s deceit, manipulativeness, indifference to the consequences of his actions, superficial charm, lack of empathy and lack of remorse, are all classic signs of a psychopath.
“Psychopaths tend to have a higher IQ and are more conscientious than those with a criminal record. They are less impulsive, negligent and irresponsible, and are really good at covering their tracks,” she said.
“Leviev is obviously a charismatic man who knows just when to turn on the charm and when to display what appears to be genuine vulnerability. His deception has been thorough, luring his victims by going to great lengths to portray a credible profile of success and lavish lifestyle that would attract their interest and admiration. It was all premeditated and extremely well planned.”
In what she calls “the curse of confidence”, Prof Schoeman comments that many of the characteristics of psychopaths – such as charm, fearless dominance, boldness and a “grandiose sense of self” – are also traits that help people get ahead in business and in life, making it sometimes difficult to identify the true psychopath.
“Successful psychopaths have the ability to very tactically assess the psychological strengths and weaknesses of those around them, manipulate others to bond with them by feeding them with carefully crafted messages, using their victims’ feedback to build and maintain control, and then abandoning them when they are no longer useful.
“They are extremely efficient at using and manipulating communication networks to enhance their own reputation, creating and maintaining conflicts and rivalries amongst acquaintances or colleagues, and creating a sense of trust with those they encounter. They are excellent at spreading disinformation, while covering up their own association with this false information,” she said.
The warning signs
- Psychopaths can disengage and detach themselves from relationships just as quickly as they attached themselves in the first place. Due to their inability to truly connect with people, they will abruptly, coldly and ruthlessly drop anyone if they are not useful anymore
- Superficial charm
- False, inflated sense of self driven by their disproportional ego
- A need to impress you or those they meet. Look out for patterns of steering or starting conversations that would positively influence your opinion of them
- Incapacity to love or show remorse
- Excessive impulsivity and at times reckless behaviour
- Sudden rages when you cross them or things don’t go their way, however display cool, calculated calmness in times when other people might be under stress
- Constant conversations about their own achievements and good fortune, with a preference to discussions that centre around the materialistic. Most people have holistic conversations – something they read, about their family or friends or their journey in life
- Patterns of calculated manipulation of people or situations in order for their own benefit
- Look out for body language – we all mimic behaviour in that if someone, for example, speaks softly you will too. Psychopaths lack empathy so they will be oblivious to signs like these and will not adjust to the situation
- Unstable or lack of relationships. Psychopaths are not able to maintain friendships, don’t have good ties with their family and have no mutually, appreciative long-term connections. Their relationships are shallow and purely for the short-term in order to reach their self-serving goal
- Psychopaths would rarely share their journey, goals or dreams with you. They have a calculated plan and want to make sure you are not privy to this information in case you become suspicious or worse, you steel their idea
So how do you safeguard yourself?
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- In romantic relationships, keep some mystery about yourself and refrain from sharing too much, too soon
- Don’t move too fast in a relationship – even if he has a jet, take your time before joining him on a trip.
- Trust your gut – if you feel that you are being manipulated, you probably are.
- Seek out the opinion of your friends and family, and in the office context, your colleagues or a mentor. They can be objective and offer perspective to help you stay true to yourself.
- Romance can literally sweep one off one’s feet! But try to stay level-headed, maintain your independence and don’t attach yourself to this person’s life too quickly.
- If you suspect anything untoward, keep a record of all communications.
- Never part with your personal information or money at the start of a new relationship. One can offer support without putting yourself at risk.
Cape Town reacts to Netflix’s latest binge, Tinder Swindler, and we’re unpacking the hype
Picture: Raw Pixels / Netflix