Israel's Tinder Swindlers: A look into the dark side of online dating

Some cautionary tales from Israelis who have had some not-so-pleasant experiences that arose through online dating

 Online dating app (Illustrative).  (photo credit: Yogas Design/Unsplash)
Online dating app (Illustrative).
(photo credit: Yogas Design/Unsplash)

Television shows like Catfish and The Tinder Swindler have, over the past few years, brought the issue of lying on social media – namely, on dating websites and apps – to the forefront.

Catfishing refers to lying about some aspect of your identity on social media, usually on dating apps, to attract someone who would otherwise most likely not be attracted to you.

There are studies that prove that people who belong to one of the Dark Triad tend to use Tinder to act on those desires,” said Dr. Idit Gutman, a clinical psychologist teaching at Tel Aviv University. The Dark Triad comprises three offensive and non-pathological personality types: psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism.

According to Gutman, the entire system of online dating allows one to compare among a multitude of people, creating a constant sense that there is always the next best person just waiting for you to swipe right.

Tinder has existed for 10 years. Several apps such as Bumble and Grindr have come after it, while websites-turned-apps like OkCupid have been around since the early 2000s. All of them say that they have very clear guidelines that are meant to prevent people from pretending to be someone they’re not, from harassing people online and from tricking people.

 DATING APPS. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) DATING APPS. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“When you’re on a dating app looking for love, it’s so important to make sure that people feel comfortable and safe,” an OkCupid spokesperson told the Magazine. “About 4.5 million people on OkCupid said they Google someone before a first date, and some 535,000 daters on OkCupid said they follow a match on social media before they even meet in person.”

OkCupid, which has easily amassed a massive range of experiences in its arsenal, says that the best way to make sure that you are not being hoodwinked is to video chat with the person. “Over nine in 10 people on OkCupid have a smartphone, so there’s no reason not to,” the spokesperson explained. “When asked, more than 675,000 daters on OkCupid said they prefer to chat via FaceTime or over the phone before meeting in person, and almost 2.5 million people said they’re open to calling or video chatting with a match before their date.”

OkCupid, Bumble and Tinder alike said that if one believes they are being catfished, he or she should report the person immediately.

Bumble, in particular, has set in place a unique methodology. The overarching theme of Bumble is that the woman makes the first move; that is to say, all control over communication is in the hands of the “queen bee,” so to speak. This prevents unwanted harassment, which, statistically speaking, is more likely to come from men than women.

But on top of that, Bumble uses AI to verify user authenticity via photo verification. A blue V next to the person’s profile indicates that the verification process has been carried out.

But even all these precautions cannot ward off some seriously uncomfortable situations. “The development of the [dating] applications has dramatically changed the way people meet potential partners and has supplanted the traditional strategies – an introduction based on acquaintances with family members, friends or colleagues,” Gutman said. “The space opened by virtual communication creates a feeling of anonymity for some users and releases inhibitions as if creating a profile or initiating contact are not real actions. In this situation, research has found that people are tempted to lie, for example, regarding their height, age and even their marital status.”

“The space opened by virtual communication creates a feeling of anonymity for some users and releases inhibitions as if creating a profile or initiating contact are not real actions. In this situation, research has found that people are tempted to lie, for example, regarding their height, age and even their marital status.”

Dr. Idit Gutman

Here are just a few cautionary tales from people who have had some not-so-pleasant dating experiences that arose through online dating.

Married, not much of a mensch

Miriam has always stuck to her motto of giving everything a try once. So when a good-looking man came up on her OkCupid feed and it said he was from the Tel Aviv area, she was willing to see if it would work out.

They messaged. Then, soon enough, they were talking on the phone, until eventually they went out on a date. That date quickly turned into three. They were very involved in exciting conversations, and he was being extremely romantic, taking her on creative and original dates in secret alleys and hidden-gem sorts of restaurants.

Naturally, Miriam was starting to fall for him. She decided to tell her cousin about the nice guy she’d been seeing and, naturally, her cousin’s response was “Show me a picture of him.”

When Miriam showed her the photo, her face fell very quickly. “He’s married, he lives in Beit Shemesh, he’s not separated and he’s not going through a divorce,” Miriam’s cousin told her.

“He’s married, he lives in Beit Shemesh, he’s not separated and he’s not going through a divorce.”

Miriam’s cousin

She was gobsmacked, obviously. “I didn’t want to break up a family, but I thought about telling his wife. But what would that do to my reputation? I went out with him one more time and said, ‘So you didn’t think it was important to tell me that you’re married?’”

“I didn’t want to break up a family, but I thought about telling his wife. But what would that do to my reputation? I went out with him one more time and said, ‘So you didn’t think it was important to tell me that you’re married?’”

Miriam

He at first denied the accusations, after which she notified him that she would be reporting him to OkCupid. “If you don’t want to be in your marriage, get out of your marriage, but stay away from people who are trying to start a normal relationship,” she told him.

Miriam said that she was very surprised to find out that he would take such a risk. After all, the English-speaking community in Beit Shemesh is quite small, and everyone there knows each other. “He didn’t think he would run into friends or family on a public dating site?” she said. “I thought he was creative with the date ideas, but later I realized that we were hiding out.”

The home herder

“S” was talking to a guy on a dating app for a while when he suggested they go out for a drink. They met in person in a public place, and he said he’d take her somewhere nice for their date.

“When we arrived at our destination, it was an apartment complex,” S said. “I asked him if he’s serious and he said, stone-faced, “Yes, I have drinks in my apartment.”

S said that they went back and forth for quite some time, during which he said that he did not understand why she felt deceived, as he had told her that they would be going somewhere for drinks, and his apartment was a place with drinks.

“It literally was starting to feel like a debate from my freshman logic class,” she said.

Me, me, me

Rivka very much enjoyed talking to a man on their mutual dating app before they finally went to meet. During their date, according to Rivka, “he told me his birthday, his IQ, sent me poetry, told me about his kids, his travels, etc. Not once did he ask about my birthday, my IQ, my kids, my travels, etc. In one of the poems he sent me, one of the lines read something about how it was fate that we met.”

That was just one of a series of disappointing stories that Rivka experienced. On another date, the man would not stop talking about his ex-wife. “My ex-husband is a psychologist, so I have some knowledge about this kind of stuff,” she explained. “When I started asking him what medication he was on and other details, he ended the date.”

Rivka has had a long line of strange dates, in fact, such as men who shared photos of themselves from 20 years prior, some that would randomly disappear for days on end, and one particularly memorable man who, on the first date, told her what she would and would not be allowed to wear when he eventually proposed.

“It’s been pretty funny in retrospect. Maybe I’ll take it on the road one day,” she said. 

“First meetings with complete strangers, whose connection is based on technical data only, such as geographic distance or salary level, may be challenging,” Gutman said, commenting on Rivka’s unpleasant experiences. “Couples tend to be similar to each other in many characteristics: health behaviors, status, interests, political opinion and speaking style. The algorithm has a hard time cracking that kind of match. Sometimes the pressure of a first date, prejudice or adherence to a well-worn script of boring small talk will not make it possible to identify a potential partner, and the multitude of alternatives does not encourage an attempt to delve deeper and locate points of attraction, and pushes to rush to the next meeting.”

 BUT EVEN all of the dating apps’ precautions cannot ward off some seriously uncomfortable situations. (credit: PIXABAY) BUT EVEN all of the dating apps’ precautions cannot ward off some seriously uncomfortable situations. (credit: PIXABAY)
Swingin’ high

Avi met his ex-boyfriend online. “He totally love-bombed me at first and then was very withdrawn for the rest of our short (two-month) relationship,” he said. “Eventually I got suspicious and started doing some Googling and found out that he was married.”

In reality, not only was the man married, but he was haredi (ultra-Orthodox), and he and his wife were in involved some swinging communities. “I had no clue of any of that and when I found out, I broke up with him,” Avi said.

“I had no clue of any of that and when I found out, I broke up with him.”

Avi

Gutman calls this truth by default: a behavioral pattern in which people tend to assume that what they are told is true. “Due to the unique characteristics of the online dating world, however, basic suspicion is warranted,” she said.

That same suspicion was exercised soon afterward by Avi when he spoke with another man on an online dating website who claimed to be Jewish but after a while, his statements and claims began to feel suspicious. Avi, once again, did some research, only to discover the man was a Christian pastor.

Serious stalker

Katie met a man on Instagram. In hindsight, she said that she should have seen a red flag right away.

They dated for five months, and those five months were perfectly ordinary. Only toward the end of the relationship did things begin to seriously go downhill.

Five months into the relationship, Katie began getting messages from an unknown telephone number. “The caller said that someone had given him my number and asked if I wanted to have a drink,” Katie told the Magazine. “I said, ‘I’m not interested. I have a boyfriend. Thank you.’ Then he changed his WhatsApp picture to a picture of the world with some Kabbalistic text. He said that he  was from the spiritual world and knew some things about my boyfriend. I kept rejecting him. Then he started telling me some private things about myself, and it really freaked me out.”

Katie told her boyfriend. But instead of worrying about her safety and well-being, he suggested that she reach out to the police or something to that effect. He said that Katie should ask the secret messenger what he wanted. Only later did she realize that the messages she was receiving contained information that only she and her boyfriend knew.

Katie came up with the idea of sharing the profile picture from WhatsApp and seeing if someone online knew who he was. She shared it on the popular Facebook group Secret Tel Aviv, and shortly thereafter a man messaged her saying that it was him.

When Katie’s boyfriend found out that she was texted by him, however, he panicked, asking where she knew him from and why she was messaging him.

“After a few days, I went to the police station,” she said. “They couldn’t help me. Something in my gut told me to ask him if it was connected to my boyfriend. They found out that he had a huge police file.”

The man she was dating turned out to have numerous restraining orders against him from various women. Although the police could not tell her exactly what he had done wrong, they suggested that she make sure there were no hidden cameras in her apartment.

“I told him I’m not coming to Shabbat because I have to think about the relationship,” Katie said. “He got really angry and asked me where I was.”

Shortly thereafter, the police imposed a restraining order to prevent him from contacting her. “I still can’t fathom that the person that the police were telling me about was the person I was dating,” she said. “I reckon he’s stalked women in the past. I was paranoid for weeks.”

“I still can’t fathom that the person that the police were telling me about was the person I was dating. I reckon he’s stalked women in the past. I was paranoid for weeks.”

Katie

After he received the restraining order, he told her to come and get her things from his home. She went when he wasn’t there and brought a male friend with her. They found cameras everywhere.

“We found cameras throughout the house, which means that he’s been filming me the entire time we’ve been dating – around the house, in the bedroom,” Katie said. “I didn’t see any weird signs until the police dropped the bomb. Now I’m just trying to figure it all out.”

Gutman explained that online dating is a safe haven for people with antisocial personality disorder, providing them with a “means of locating and closing in on their prey.” This seems to be the exact practice Katie’s boyfriend took on.

 WHETHER IT be through friends or through dating apps, the dating world is a very difficult place to navigate. (credit: PIXABAY) WHETHER IT be through friends or through dating apps, the dating world is a very difficult place to navigate. (credit: PIXABAY)
Not-so-Romeo

Juliet met someone online who was perfectly friendly. His messages were normal and casual. Only in person did his obsessions come to light, and they were not so cheery.

“He spent the whole date talking about his debts and low income. We just had a soft drink. He complained about the price. We each paid for ourselves and he decided he wasn’t tipping, so I left a tip.”

Juliet

“He spent the whole date talking about his debts and low income,” Juliet said. He also had an exit order, not allowing him to leave the country due to his debts. “We just had a soft drink. He complained about the price. We each paid for ourselves and he decided he wasn’t tipping, so I left a tip.”

“A first impression is formed very quickly, within a few seconds, in a face-to-face meeting,” Gutman said of Juliet’s first date. “On the other hand, apps lack much of the information that dictates our intuitive feeling in relation to a person. The result is meetings that would not have happened without online mediation.”

Cheater with change

Channa met a guy on Tinder who seemed friendly enough. They hooked up; but shortly thereafter, he informed her that he was married. He barely took a breath between letting her know that and deciding to teach her an economics lesson, of all things.

“He called me two weeks later to tell me he was trying to work things out with his wife,” Channa said.

But that isn’t the only wild experience Channa has had on a Tinder hookup. She went to a man’s home in Rehovot and enjoyed a lovely evening with him. The next morning, he left for work and they agreed that she would stay at his apartment, work remotely from there, and after his work he would drive her back home. But some time into her working from his apartment, there came a loud banging at the door.

“His ex-wife/baby mama started banging on the door screaming, ‘I know you’re in there, you slut!’ and cussing in Ukrainian and Russian,” Channa said. “She threatened to kill me. Finally, I called him at work and told him to either call her off or I’d call the cops on her. He managed to calm her down. That was a long and awkward ride back [home], and I ended things. Couldn’t take the baby mama drama.”

“His ex-wife/baby mama started banging on the door screaming, ‘I know you’re in there, you slut!’ and cussing in Ukrainian and Russian. She threatened to kill me. Finally, I called him at work and told him to either call her off or I’d call the cops on her. He managed to calm her down. That was a long and awkward ride back [home], and I ended things. Couldn’t take the baby mama drama.”

Channa

Crazed and closeted

Daniel told the Magazine that one of his wildest romantic interactions was with a haredi man who was “in the closet.” That is, he was someone who was part of the LGBTQ+ community and either not telling those close to them or living in fervent denial of the matter.

This man, who engaged in a sexual relationship with Daniel, would, on occasion, yell, “I am not gay!”

“I [legitimately] thought that he would kill me to keep his secret safe,” Daniel said.

For the LGBT community, virtual dating has a special value: statistically, there are fewer romantic LGBT candidates than straight ones. Potential partners cannot be easily identified. And the fear of stigmas and prejudices increases the desire for anonymity and secrecy,” Gutman explained. “For this population, being able to contact self-identified homosexuals in private has many advantages. One of them is the discovery of many others who share their sexual preferences, which dispels a sense of isolation and abnormality.”

Summarizing insanity

From traumatic to simply too much, countless people have experienced some extremely unpleasant dates. Whether it be through friends or through dating apps, the dating world is a very difficult place to navigate.

While some apps depend on their users to report people for inappropriate behavior, those that are taking the initiative to set forth preliminary systems are doing the most for the single-and-ready-to-mingle dating scene, protecting their clientele and allowing them to navigate the cyber-verse without having to do so in constant fear.

With the new Jewish Year coming up, one good resolution is to see some positive change on these platforms to allow for healthier and safer connections. ■