A few nights ago, my husband and I watched “The Tinder Swindler” on Netflix. I followed that up (while I was ironing, of course) with “Inventing Anna,” another Netflix show. I mean, who doesn’t love a good, juicy story about a conman/conwoman? When someone has the audacity (or mental illness) to buck society’s norms and use their friends, lovers, and coworkers as pawns in their own personal chess game, without any regard for what will happen to these people, we get curious. Curious about what makes them tick. Curious about how they planned and executed their cons. Curious about how their victims didn’t see it all as plain as the brown on a paper bag. Humans love a sensational story. If we didn’t, TMZ wouldn’t exist.
Much has been said about the naiveté of the victims of these hustlers. In the case of the Tinder Swindler, people have called his female marks slurs like gold diggers, idiots, and sluts. When we were watching the documentary, I admit I sat there agog that these women would send a man they had only known a matter of weeks photos of their passports. What on earth could they have been thinking? I remarked to my husband that in a million years I never would have done something like that when I was dating. I grew up feeling anxious and unsafe in my home environment, and there I learned I could trust no one but myself. As a young woman in the dating world, I was cautious and independent, so the idea of meeting a guy for coffee and then agreeing to hop aboard his private jet bound for another country seems insane to me. While these young women were thinking, “Oh…this is like a fairy tale movie,” I would have been thinking, “This is like a serial killer movie. He’s going to lure me to another country with his private jet and then murder me and dump my corpse there.” I mean, really. Fairy tale? Come on. And call me crazy, but a young, handsome heir to a diamond fortune doesn’t need to find women on Tinder.
Once I got over the preposterousness of it, though, I felt for his victims. They wanted to believe the best. They wanted to trust that this man was what he said he was, what he was actively working to present himself as. They were being flown all over Europe in private jets, wine and dined, presented with lavish gifts and attention. All of these things seemed legit. In the absence of skepticism and a stunted, cynical heart like mine, you are primed as a human for this trickery. So these women lost tens of thousands of dollars to him, and they are still paying off their losses.
Trust is necessary for people to coexist. For societies to work, we have to trust each other. We have to assume when we drive that other drivers will also pilot their vehicles according to the rules of the road and act to keep themselves, as well as others, safe. When we go to the hospital, we trust that the doctors and nurses will do everything in their power to help us. We trust our teachers to be kind and helpful. We trust our neighbors will be decent and responsible. When you don’t trust others, you limit your ability to participate in the world around you. Ask Vladimir Putin.
So as you watch The Tinder Swindler or Inventing Anna and find yourself being deeply critical of those who fell for the ruse, just remember the victims of these cons are not pathetic, gullible losers, but human beings doing what human beings do: trusting others and believing that good still exists in the world. Conmen have for millennia taken advantage of the human need to trust others. We use the term “snake oil salesman” as a cautionary tale for a reason. But we need to believe in the inherent good of others. Trust in others is part of what makes our survival as a species possible. It’s a shame there are those bad apples out there who insist on reminding us there is evil and unmitigated gall for our species to survive too. And it only makes for entertaining television when you aren’t the one who got dropped in their trust fall.