I have always been a hopeless romantic myself; a sucker for love and romance. I used to idealise love and every time I felt a connection with a man, I assumed it was a special, rare, once in a lifetime kind-of-thing. Well guess what, it’s not. We are actually very skilled and capable of connecting with many different mates, and it isn’t as uncommon as we may think to have good chemistry with somebody – in fact it’s the very essence of propagation of the human species. Love and sexual attraction are abundant experiences in our lifetime, but for some reason we grow up to think otherwise. Consumed with this bias, when a man portrays himself to be our ‘Mr Right’ by literally feeding us with the fairy tale we have always dreamt of, we jump on the bandwagon hook, line and sinker, especially when we are promised all that we desire. We think, ‘here he is… finally .. my prince Charming.. it’s my turn to be happy’. Generally, women in their early thirties are the most susceptible target victims for such fraudsters – very often consumed by their fears of staying on the proverbial shelf, and not manifesting their wish to have babies or a family – ticktock tick tock. This strong biological urge makes them more vulnerable to being duped.
The con man bases his strategy on the ability to build trust through deceit for their own personal gain, and make someone trust them blindly to their detriment. The con is triggering a bias from liking/loving, which we all have in us – to the development of trust and commitment. By getting us committed and then drawing us in slowly, we are then more inclined to give our all to our love object, with less or little objectivity. Some deeply ingrained belief systems also kick in: ‘Love is sacrifice’, ‘If I really love this person I’ll do anything for them’ etc etc. Trust is something we have battled with since caveman had to decide whether or not to recruit help in the killing of the bear, or whether to brave it alone and prevent the risk of his meat being stolen. It’s always a tricky one – to trust or not to trust; to risk or not to risk. Trusting is a double-edged sword: essential in our recruitment of others for help, yet it makes us vulnerable to exploitation. So, if we choose not to trust, we remain alone and can perish. If we do trust, we can be hurt or deceived. It’s a Hobson’s choice really. Choosing to trust does not make us fools however, only human. We are biologically programmed to yearn and search for a mate, and in order to do this ‘trust’ and ‘risk’ are part and parcel.
On a psychological level, cons are very often like a magic show – they play to our imagination and get us to see and believe what we want to (especially if the con-artist is a sociopath). When we step into a magic show, we come in actively wanting to be fooled, because that is part of the fun. Normality is mundane. We want a thrill. We want exciting lives. We want to be enthralled. We want deception to cover our eyes and make our world a tiny bit more amazing. The magician, in many ways, uses the exact same approaches as the confidence man—only without the destruction of the con’s end game. Magic is a kind of a conscious, willing con so to speak.
When we look for a mate, we are actually implicitly searching for a feeling, such as feeling special, unique, desired or wanted. We crave the attention that we once got from our primary caregivers, or that we didn’t get and need to desperately compensate for. We seek to find our tribe, belong, become one with another. From the day we are born, we levitate towards connection – our mother, the breast, the dummy, the soother blanket, our teacher. There’s always a special someone or something. Then into our adult years, we tend to yearn for that connection in a special other. Simon Leviev knew his psychology. He was a narcissistic psychopath/ sociopath, who lured women in with a very refined game. He mesmerised women by selling them a dream (usually based on their profile) or in a general promise of a life of financial freedom, excitement, virility, devoted affection and desire, movie-level romance, and the potential to father their kids. It’s not unusual that a woman would fall for a man like that, neither is it stupidity or naiveté – it’s human. These women were not gold-diggers, as they have been rampantly labelled. A gold-digger would never loan money to a man themselves. They were merely old school romantics who thought they’d got extremely lucky to have found this man – who ticked all their boxes.
I have nothing but heartfelt sympathy for people who are conned, because I know it could have easily been me. Let’s analyse what the red flags should have been and what to watch out for in your dating adventures.
Firstly, Simon moved too quickly. This in itself shows psychological immaturity or ego disturbances (personality disorder). In some of the cases the relationship had become intense within a few weeks. A relationship needs to develop organically and naturally, and healthy people usually pace things out well, one step at a time, without rushing.
Secondly, he love-bombed with gifts and gestures, which usually indicates that they are trying to manipulate, or that they are insecure on a deeper level and feel they need to impress with other things since they do not feel like they are enough.
Thirdly, he asked for money – big no no – and extremely unusual of any self-respecting man to ask his female counterpart for money. Other red flags were his tendency to overshare on the first date, his incessant need to flash status symbols e.g. designer gear, cars and yachts. This shows a lack of humility and a tendency towards Narcissism. It wreaks of an overdone façade, or of someone trying to prove something. He also verged on pushy and dominant from first contact, which is also not a trait women should aspire for in a mate. He left no room for his victims to decline his invitations, and he immediately created a serious power imbalance, which is not ever healthy. There was a felt sense of artificiality about him, which his victims so wanted to believe was true. Of course, it is easier to see these things from the outside – I may not have been so wise myself at the time, if it happened to me.
I’d like to also share a little bit of my recent experiences on Tinder, so I’m not just coming into this with my psychology hat on, but also as a digital dater. So… I found myself on Tinder two years ago, as a woman in my mid-forties, who’s previous experience of dating was in my twenties. Back then, we had no mobile phones so we dolled ourselves up, headed out to meet some friends at a meeting point (hoping they would show up), and then cruised around different bars and clubs making eye-contact with the cute guys, (or girls as the case may be). Needless to say I was awful at it, but occasionally I ended my evenings with a snog or two, and a crumpled paper with a landline number on it. So, here I was again, single and ready to mingle, but oh how things had changed. So of course, I downloaded these infamous apps, stepping into a world I so was not prepared for.
Within my first hour on Tinder, I had 100 likes, which I imagine is strategically planned very precisely in order to give one that just-so-very-slight boost to the old heart-broken shit-I’m single-again ego. I thought ‘wey hey.. looks like I’ve still got it baby’. I started swiping on every cute guy that caught my eye and it felt like I was shopping on Ebay, which didn’t sit well at all. Matches started buzzing in - which surprised me pleasantly – and then started a stream of chats. After some weeks I had been on a few dates already and Tinder had pretty much taken over my life and head space. I was battling to keep up with the chatting and swiping – quite consumed by it all. It was fun, new, often disappointing, and mind-boggling to no end.
The psychology of Tinder is absolutely fascinating. Firstly, one needs to try and understand what has motivated the other person to swipe on your profile (most often it’s a drive for sex), or why somebody swiped on you - but waits for you to make the first move (the passive aggressive), or somebody who swipes on you, then unmatches you after a few minutes (that one sucks - ouch). Then of course, there’s the guy who nauseates you with flattery and compliments, even before meeting (Eager beaver), and the ones who answer your questions with one word answers (charisma of a fish). Then you need to decide on the right timing to convert to another platform such as messenger or whatsapp, because this will lead to one of two things: pics of their private parts (never pretty) or more meaningful convo – or both. Then there is the importance of the opening line, the most common being: ‘Hi, so what are you after on Tinder?’ My reply was something along the lines of ‘how the hell would I know… I haven’t even met you yet dude?’
So, I’d decided that being that I was just out of a serious relationship, I’d just open myself to friendships/ companions on Tinder, and casually date for a while. I met a few nice guys and had some lovely dates, amidst a series of awfully boring ones. Unfortunately, in those early days, I wore my heart on my sleeve and I realised that after a few dates, I had started to develop feelings for people (what the hell is wrong with me?). You’d think that as a psychologist and a mature woman, I could handle myself better, like these young ones who really know their way around in this world. I was devastated when my first crush stopped our whatsapp stream because he picked up that I was falling for him (Grrrrrrr). He ‘ghosted’ me, as my daughter explained, and it felt awful. I was heart-broken by the unmatches, the ghosting, the rejections – in the first few months of this world. I took it to heart and felt like shit. So I did what every resilient female does – deleted tinder, reinstalled tinder, delete again, reinstall again, repeat. Then … I armoured myself, and I upped my game plan!
This time I became more cautious about who to swipe right on, who I met and who I gave my precious time to. My rules were clearer now. No swiping on guys: without tops, half- naked, posing with their mother, posing with their kids, posing with their ex (with her face smudged out), posing with a group of friends (and you have to guess which one is him). No swiping on: guys posing in front of the pool at Café Del Mar or someone else's' red jaguar. No guys with sunglasses (big no no) and no guys with spelling mistakes in their profile (says a lot). I became super selective, and only swiped on guys who had common interests with me and matched my criteria. I also refined my profile with a good variety of pics representing who I really am, and a specific description of what I am looking for. This made my tindering more manageable and more satisfying. I ALSO built a protective layer around my romantic heart and went out on dates just for the experience; no expectations whatsoever. My dates lasted two hours on average, and then I decided if I would be interested in a second date or not. I always reciprocated contact and was honest with them about my intentions, even if I wasn’t interested. Ghosting is simply cruel.
Something I managed to somehow avoid in my tindering days (before I met my wonderful partner), was being duped by fraudsters or conmen. Let’s explore how.
Firstly, the fake profiles are usually easy enough to spot, especially if your google search does not reveal matching info. Secondly, we must remain very much in touch with our primitive defense mechanisms and danger alarms. As I learnt the hard way, our hearts must be placed in a cast-iron box and our brain should be tuned in to what is happening with sharpness and clarity. We must assess every word, every gesture, every move. We must ask ourselves if this feels right, comfortable, healthy, normal. We must listen to our gut. We must do background checks on our suitors and listen to what our friends have to say. We must ask about their past relationships and what went wrong. We must keep a step back and build a level of trust and security before allowing ourselves to melt. It’s like our brain needs to give our heart the green light first, before it connects.
Online romance scams aren't as rare as you might think. In September last year, the FBI reported that its Internet Crime Complaint Centre had received more than 1,800 reports relating to online romance scams in 2021 alone. Maltese statistics are surely comparable, and I was no exception. The first guy who tried to con me claimed to be a captain of a ship, travelling around the world. He went by the name of Michael Ibrahim. He was drop-dead gorgeous, even though there was something very posed about his photos (too staged). He also called me the most beautiful woman he’s ever laid his eyes on across the seas, which I found comical to say the least. He said he was looking for his soul mate and claimed he thought it could be me – even though we had never met! So, I could immediately feel the incongruence happening inside, but I went along for the fun of it. We kept in touch for a few weeks until he said he was on his way to Malta and I agreed to meet him for dinner. That week I received a message from him that his ship was in distress and sinking, and he asked me to email the central unit with an SOS for help, because he said they had lost their power and satellite signal. I went ahead with the email because my conscience did not allow me to let a ship and its crew drown (even though I was already suspicious). He then followed his request for me to pay the engineering company (with a totally legit website) the call-out fee of $2,000, because he did not have satellite frequency! Nope! Delete. Block. Report. BYE.
The second scammer also claimed to be a sailor, on his way to Malta, with a similar plot. Clearly these individuals were not as refined as Mr Leviev, but nonetheless, your radar needs to be on, your intuition and instincts need to be sharp. The online dating world is fun, fast and furious, but also potentially dangerous if we let our guard down.
It’s tempting for an observer to think that the victims of a con must be incredibly gullible and that a similar tragedy would never befall them because they’re too smart. However, no matter how smart we are, our evolved psychological mechanisms that promote trust - leave us open to being conned. We are all vulnerable to promises of something we desire, whether it’s -power, success, money, fame, true love – we all have our weaknesses - and it’s essential to recognize that anyone could fall prey to a con. Does this vulnerability mean that we should stop trusting people or stop using dating apps?
Not at all. In a nutshell, here’s how to use dating apps safely, wisely and enjoyably:
Disclaimer: I don’t have experience dating women, so my two cents worth of advice comes from the perspective of a woman interested in men. This article is also full of sweeping statements, personal biases and stereotypical generalisations – forgive me. We’re all different and not all women fall into these categories simply because I did, or just because it’s commonplace.
Hope this was helpful. Let me know your thoughts below or PM us on our FB page.