Skip to content

ACI Blog

How does Netflix’s ‘The Tinder Swindler’ Shed Light on the Problem of Social Engineering Scams?

The power to ignite conversation is indisputable for the online streaming service Netflix. First came ‘Tiger King,’ which got the world infatuated with privately-owned big cats in the U.S. Now, we are turning our heads to romance scams with the release of the true crime documentary, ‘The Tinder Swindler.’ Just like that, the streaming service has sparked conversation around how easy it is to unwittingly become a victim of authorized push payment fraud.

What is Authorized Push Payment Fraud?

Authorized Push Payment (APP) fraud is when the victim is coerced into making a transfer of funds to an account assumed to be a legitimate payee. This can involve a wide range of scams, including purchase scams, investment scams or romance scams. The fraudster achieves this by way of social engineering. In the case of romance scams, the victim is coerced into paying someone they have met online, with whom they believe to have a romantic relationship. With the increased adoption of real-time payments, these transactions are often irreversible. According to UK Finance, romance scams have been steadily growing since 2018, with cases having tripled in the last three years.

Can you put a price on love?

First launched in 2013, Tinder revolutionized the dating industry by making it possible to find love at the click of a button on your phone. As of 2020, dating apps are a $3 billion industry, and revenues continue to grow at a steady rate. Dating apps and social media have made it easy to find love online, but at what cost?

The documentary follows the story of Simon Leviev, a man who poses as a wealthy diamond mogul, using his fake persona to scam women all over Europe out of millions to fund his luxurious lifestyle. Although the audience are given the whole story and might view the victims as naïve, this could happen to anyone. Financial coercion, that is, coercing someone to apply for credit cards, obtain loans or sign financial documents, is a crime in many countries. Simon only spends 5 months in prison for his actions, which begs the question – who should be held responsible?

In the show, Simon gives his victim, Cecilie Fjelløy a false $94,000 monthly payslip so she can take out a larger credit card limit for him to spend. It is easy to blame the victim for being so gullible, but she is exactly that – a victim. Stopping these criminals will not be an easy feat. To protect others from being tricked into losing their livelihoods to scams, we must all come together.

What is the solution to romance scams?

The answer lies in data. While action is needed from regulators and judicial systems to clamp down on those committing APP fraud, technology like network intelligence enables real-time exchange fraud signals to feed machine learning algorithms. More scrutiny of data is needed when consumers make uncharacteristic requests to raise their credit limits or take out loans. This can also be done to protect potential victims of smaller-scale romance scams, by blocking transactions to strange accounts on the receiving end. Dating apps and social media also have a place in the collective fight to stop criminals, blocking users who have repeatedly been flagged as fraudulent. Together, we can work to build the infrastructure to make APP fraud obsolete.

Sign up to our upcoming webinar to discuss who is responsible for protecting consumers from APP scams. Plus, read this eBook to learn about ACI’s award-winning proprietary technology network intelligence, sharing industry-wide fraud signals without compromising privacy.

Product Marketing Specialist

Elise Thrale is a product marketing specialist on the product marketing team at ACI focused on fraud management and central infrastructures.