We had begun living online far before the world was thrown into a pandemic. However, now it has become our primary source of connection for our work and personal lives. In many ways, we are lucky to have the technology available to stay in touch with all of our loved ones around the world.
It allows us to build our network and meet new people online. Many have befriended people through video games, Reddit comment sections, and of course dating apps. The internet can be a great way to meet people you would never have otherwise met, never crossed their path. It can be a great tool, but it's important to remember that people on the internet are strangers.
Strangers can be incredible when they let us know we dropped something or when they hold the elevator door, but online it can be difficult to know who we are talking to and very easy to share our personal information like wildfire.
In Netflix's "The Tinder Swindler", we see how easy it is for someone to create an identity online. He changes his last name to match the family name of a billionaire and created an entire online presence to appear as the heir of the family diamond company.
Using dating apps, he meets women and builds these relationships simultaneously with women all over Europe. He gets to know them by sharing personal details and slowly builds their trust. He takes them on trips with expensive hotels and private planes to show off his lavish lifestyle. They meet his entourage of his business partner, his bodyguard, and even his ex, all of whom validate his identity and speak to his character. He flies around Europe as he travels for his work, and stops in to visit his various girlfriends around Europe, none of whom suspect someone else is always footing his bills.
Things eventually take a turn when his story changes to urgency and danger. All of the sudden, his enemies are after him, he cannot access his finances, and his bodyguard has been attacked so he turns to his loving and trusting girlfriends in his vulnerability. After he has created the guise of paranoia and fear, he starts asking for small amounts of money that he does pay back to gain trust. Each time he asks for money, the amount increases, and he stops sending money back to his girlfriends to pay back the debt he owes in their name.
Now, many people on the internet have shamed these women for falling for his false identity and allowing him to borrow money in the first place. It would never happen to you, right? Keep in mind, many of these women have been dating Simon for months, even years. They have personally seen his displays of wealth, and he has covered their expenses for trips and dinners and hotels. If he needs the money, they would have no reason to think he would not be able to pay them back. So they apply for credit cards and loans in their name and send him the funds to support him. They fell for his elaborate story, one backed up by a Google search and his supportive group of enablers who are all in on the story.
While Simon Leviev and his story have taken over the internet, this story is not uncommon. Many people have fallen to identity theft and the internet makes it easier than ever.
"Inventing Anna" is another DocuSeries on Netflix that follows the story of Anna Sorokin, who goes by the name Anna Delvey. Anna is a Russian living in New York who is found to be impersonating a fake German heiress. She has the confidence and audacity to ask for the world, and she has never heard of the phrase "imposter syndrome". The story follows her ascend to the social circles of the New York elite and ends up in jail after leaving a trail of outstanding debts wherever she turns.
Identity theft is far easier while we exist in an online world. We can create our online personae into anything we wish, and there are people who will take advantage of that. We can match with dates, jobs, friends, and free furniture swaps and consistently engage with strangers online.
It is important to understand how easily identity theft can happen. We are lucky to be able to connect with loved ones online, but always be aware that people are not always as they appear to be on the internet.