He walked past our white Mazda five days after we had started looking for the Tinder Swindler in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Dressed in a grey sweatshirt, well-worn blue jeans and blue, mirrored sunglasses, the unidentified man pointedly turned to look at the Mail photographer sitting in the passenger seat.
Although she couldn’t see through his lenses, she felt the glare of his eyes. Calmly, he then made an unmistakably threatening gesture.
To ensure we had got the message, he looked at us again and repeated it. ‘Oh my God, he’s deadly serious,’ the photographer said.
From the back seat of the rental car, I looked up — and saw what she meant. The man, probably in his late 30s, was unquestionably intimidating us. Then he turned away and carried on walking.
Shimon Yehuda Hayut, 31, found notoriety after a 114-minute Netflix documentary exposed how he ruthlessly conned women he had met on the dating app Tinder out of hundreds of thousands of pounds by posing as the son of a billionaire diamond mogul. (Hayut is seen above, posing in a jet)
Conman Hayut (above) would pretend to be Simon Leviev, chief executive of LLD Diamonds and the son of Israeli-Russian billionaire Lev Leviev, a man Forbes once called the ‘King of Diamonds’
‘We have to get out of here right now,’ the photographer said, clambering from the passenger seat back into the driver’s seat, then pulling the car away.
We managed to navigate our way round the tangle of one-way streets to get back to our hotel. It was not clear who the man was — but what was clear was that he wanted to convey a message.
It was not something we had expected to happen outside the luxury 14-storey tower block where we discovered Shimon Yehuda Hayut has been holed up since he was exposed as one of the world’s most reviled fraudsters.
And, of course, there is no proof to suggest the incident was connected to him.
Hayut, 31, found notoriety after a 114-minute Netflix documentary exposed how he ruthlessly conned women he had met on the dating app Tinder out of hundreds of thousands of pounds by posing as the son of a billionaire diamond mogul.
Above, Hayut’s girlfriend, model Kate Konlin. Her Instagram is filled with pictures of her posing in skimpy attire on their modern balcony, or with an enormous teddy bear and hundreds of balloons in their lounge, or showing off her Louboutin heels in the slick lobby of their apartment building
The crook would pretend to be Simon Leviev, chief executive of LLD Diamonds and the son of Israeli-Russian billionaire Lev Leviev, a man Forbes once called the ‘King of Diamonds’.
The international conman would dazzle his victims with his apparently luxurious lifestyle of private jets, designer clothes and five-star hotels — before tricking them into giving him eye-watering sums.
In a twisted Ponzi scheme, he would use the cash he stole from them to lure in his next target, lavishing them too with trips abroad, and with hundreds of red roses and tables in VIP clubs.
He left his victims with suicidal feelings, crippling bank debts and the agony and humiliation of discovering their relationship with him was a sham.
Hayut has denied all their allegations against him, claiming he is ‘not a fraud and not a fake’ but instead a ‘legitimate businessman’ who made his fortune by investing in Bitcoin.
In an interview on the U.S. TV programme Inside Edition, he insisted this week: ‘I’m not this monster. I was just a single guy that wanted to meet some girls on Tinder.’
In the interview, he kissed his girlfriend Kate Konlin, a model, for the cameras as she accused his victims of creating a ‘fake story’.
To find out more about the Tinder Swindler and to build up the most comprehensive profile of the fraudster yet, we spent several days in Tel Aviv, the city he comes from and to which he has now returned.
We spoke to neighbours, to relatives and we visited the poverty-stricken area east of Tel Aviv where he was brought up — a neighbourhood poles apart from the vibrant, city-centre location of his current home just 200 metres from the city’s crowded beach.
We tracked down the twice-jailed criminal to the high-end complex where he lives with his blonde Ukrainian-Israeli girlfriend by following a trail of clues on her social media account.
Her Instagram is filled with pictures of her posing in skimpy attire on their modern balcony, or with an enormous teddy bear and hundreds of balloons in their lounge, or showing off her Louboutin heels in the slick lobby of their apartment building.
Hayut was eventually arrested and imprisoned in December 2019 at Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court but released the following May, after serving five months of his 15-month sentence
When we arrived, we found Hayut himself in a garish Gucci jumper making a tense phone call while pacing up and down the same balcony.
The brand new building boasts £6 million five-bedroom penthouses with private rooftop swimming pools. Even the more modest three-bedrooms flats, with floor-to-ceiling windows and modern balconies, cost £1.2 million.
Home to a raft of well-heeled residents — including foreign diplomats and other residents draped in designer wares — it is one of Tel Aviv’s most sought-after developments.
It is also the base from which Hayut has been cashing in on his cruel crimes. The vast windows, always with their blinds drawn, have served as a backdrop to all his interviews, videos and business meetings.
While his victims are still fighting to clear the debts they took out to fund his vicious scams, he has continued to grasp at opportunities to profit from their misery.
After the Netflix documentary’s release, he signed with Los Angeles agent Gina Rodriguez, who represents a raft of fame-hungry clients through her agency Gitoni. It has been claimed that Hayut wants to ‘break into Hollywood’, start his own dating show and host a podcast.
In 2018, one of Hayut’s targets, London-based Norwegian web designer Cecilie Fjellhoy (pictured with him), travelled to Amsterdam with more than £20,000 in cash to give him, thinking she was saving her boyfriend’s life
Even though he claims he wants to clear his name, when the Mail approached him with the chance to do so through an interview, he demanded £7,000 ($10,000) ‘compensation’.
When we insisted that we did not think a fee was appropriate, a Gitoni employee suggested the money would be paid to the management firm rather than to the conman himself.
He added: ‘Simon has never been convicted of crimes involving the women in the documentary. He also has never been arrested or investigated by police over the accusations.’
Konlin has since signed with the same company. Hayut’s other money-making schemes include charging his ‘fans’ £148 a time for personalised greetings messages.
He signed up to the platform Cameo, which boasts other celebrity signings including Nigel Farage and John Bercow.
Punters can ask the criminal to record any greeting or message — from wishing their loved one a happy birthday to telling them to give him a wad of cash.
It has been reported on one American gossip website that he made more than £22,000 in the first three days from this, although this should be treated with scepticism — his account only has 59 reviews.
After the Netflix documentary’s release, Hayut signed with Los Angeles agent Gina Rodriguez, who represents a raft of fame-hungry clients through her agency Gitoni. It has been claimed that Hayut wants to ‘break into Hollywood’, start his own dating show and host a podcast
As well as selling £25 T-shirts emblazoned with tasteless quotes such as ‘If she really loves you, she’ll take out of a loan for you’, the fraudster has also launched a series of NFTs (or non-fungible tokens) — digital artworks — of the very pictures he used to con his female victims.
Since the Netflix documentary, he has continued to parade his supposedly limitless wealth. Last weekend, he was pictured browsing Ferraris worth more than £200,000 at a garage.
When a Mail reporter visited the garage, outside Tel Aviv, a witness claimed Hayut appeared to have brought the cameraman with him.
The lifestyle Hayut seems to live could not be more different from his strict upbringing in Bnei Brak — a Hasidic Jewish neighbourhood in the east of Tel Aviv.
This is one of the most densely populated cities in Israel, made up of uniform, beige apartment blocks.
The run-down area, described as ‘dirt poor’ by local media, consists of crumbling buildings. Furniture and other rubbish lies in piles in overgrown grass.
Hayut grew up with his five siblings in one of 16 apartments in a concrete four-storey block.
His father, Rabbi Yohanan Hayut, still lives in the building which has a bomb shelter filled with junk and holes in the walls on the stairwell.
Outside the sparse family home, a white orchid sits on a welcome mat, but the reception from Rabbi Hayut, a severe-looking man with a white beard, is anything but warm.
As soon as he opened the door to Mail reporters, he immediately slammed it shut and locked it.
Rabbi Hayut himself has been accused of teaming up with his son to defraud a wealthy rabbi in New York, although he denies the allegations.
According to neighbours, the father-of-six is a ‘tough man’ who used to shout at his children — at Shimon Hayut in particular. Just three of the Hayut children remain in the community, the neighbours added.
Shimon ‘lost his way’. ‘Shimon left the family and his religion and fell apart,’ said one man, who wanted to remain anonymous.
Describing the Tinder Swindler, one neighbour said: ‘He brought shame to the entire neighbourhood. How a man like this isn’t ashamed of his behaviour is beyond me. What he did damaged our city’s name.’
Hayut’s criminal career began when as a teenager he used stolen cheques to buy a Porsche and pay for a pilot training course.
Although he was charged in 2012, he fled Israel on a stolen passport before his sentencing.
Three years later, he was jailed for two years after defrauding three women in Finland.
In 2017, upon release from the prison, he legally changed his name to Simon Leviev. He was returned to Israel, to be re-charged and sentenced, but slipped out of the country for a second time.
This is when his elaborate con to trick the victims featured in the Netflix documentary began.
Hayut is currently living as a free man in Tel Aviv. He has never been charged for the crimes outlined in the Netflix documentary
After impressing his targets with his supposed riches, gaining their trust and winning their hearts, he would claim that he was in danger owing to the violent nature of the diamond business.
He would send them pictures of his bodyguard ‘Peter’ supposedly bleeding from the head following what he said was a criminal attack.
Claiming he had to go underground to hide from his ‘enemies’, Hayut told his targets he was unable to use his credit cards because he could be traced.
In this way, he persuaded his victims to give him the cash he said he needed. They used high-interest loans and platinum credit cards to raise the money before handing it over to him in the belief it was the only way to ensure his enemies would not find him.
Convinced by the outrageous ploy — and certain his previous displays of wealth proved he was not short of cash — the victims always complied.
In 2018, one of his targets, London-based Norwegian web designer Cecilie Fjellhoy, travelled to Amsterdam with more than £20,000 in cash to give Hayut, thinking she was saving her boyfriend’s life.
He convinced her to pretend she worked for his fake firm on a vast salary, so she could increase her American Express allowance. She was left with debts of more than £200,000.
The other victims featured in the documentary, Pernilla Sjoholm and Ayleen Charlotte, also faced mounting debts from a carbon copy of the same scam.
Hayut was arrested for his original charges of fraud in 2019 after Miss Charlotte, who had become wise to his tricks, reported him to Interpol for using a fake passport in Greece.
He was extradited to Israel and, in December 2019, was sentenced to 15 months in prison, of which he served five.
He has since been living as a free man in Tel Aviv. Hayut has never been charged for the crimes outlined in the Netflix documentary.
As our investigation shows, he’s now shamelessly exploiting his reputation as a conman to make money while many of those who suffered from his despicable deception still are yet to see justice.
Additional reporting: Jotam Confino