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Valentine’s Day: The ‘Tinder Swindler’ – Economic Abuse: a lawyer’s perspective

Love is in the air, or so we may think as we celebrate this Valentine’s Day. Today will be filled with couples declaring their love for each other, either in person or on social media. However, what about the people who are living in unhealthy and abusive relationships but nevertheless still have to play the loving partner for fear of consequences.

As a family lawyer, this Valentine’s Day I welcome the fact that the Netflix Show ‘The Tinder Swindler’ has just been released and it has topped their global most watched list. The film reveals so much about modern day relationships, particularly economic abuse.

So far, 45.8 million people have seen this Netflix hit. It documents Simon Hayut/Simon Leviev’s alleged use of Tinder to trick women across the world out of £7.4million, by masquerading as the son of a diamond magnate; indeed, Leviev called himself the ‘Prince of Diamonds’. His modus operandi was to entice women into a relationship with champagne and private jets, making them believe he was hugely wealthy and they were the new object of his affection. Once they had been fooled into believing his fantasy and had given him their trust, he would later tell his victims that his ‘enemies’ were trailing him in order to persuade them to get credit cards and loans for his use. The release of this film was swiftly followed by the widely publicised conviction of Richard Dexter – otherwise known as the “UK Tinder Swindler” – for fraudulently posing as a successful businessman in order to extract over £141,000 from a woman he met on the dating app.

In recent years, economic abuse like the behaviours demonstrated by these men has gained increasing recognition as a form of domestic abuse, with campaign groups such as Surviving Economic Abuse and Chayn providing valuable online practical advice and support to victims. Economic abuse is now a crime and is defined in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 as “any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on [the victim]’s ability to (a) acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or (b) obtain goods or services”.

Economic abuse can take many forms and is often part of a pattern of controlling and coercive behaviour which can sometimes be reinforced with violence or threats of violence. It can affect people from all walks of life, and sadly as family lawyers we have encountered it in our work on a far too frequent basis. We understand that economic abuse can make it very difficult, from a practical as well as psychological perspective, for someone to leave a relationship. If you are in an abusive relationship and are thinking of bringing it to an end, you can be reassured that family lawyers have an assortment of legal tools that can be deployed to combat perpetrators of domestic abuse including:

Occupation and Non- Molestation Orders

In terms of immediate action, when it is essential to protect a victim’s personal safety, an Occupation Order can be sought. Such an Order can require the abuser to leave the family home, but still ensure that they pay the mortgage/rent and other outgoings. Additionally, if the removal of the abuser’s physical presence from the home will not prevent the continuance of abuse via text, third parties or social media, a Non-Molestation Order can also be obtained, which will prevent the use of certain behaviour, such as contacting the victim either directly or indirectly or encouraging anyone else to do so. Depending on the circumstances, breaches of these orders can be enforced by the threat of committal to prison or a prison sentence for contempt.

Interim Maintenance and Legal Funding

Once proceedings have been issued, in situations where the victim has been denied access to funds or prevented from working, it may be possible to seek an Interim Maintenance Order. If granted an Order would ensure that the victim is able to meet their day to day needs until the conclusion of the proceedings. Funding for legal costs can also be sought by way of a litigation loan; specialist lender/ loan funds to cover legal costs on the basis the loan will be repaid from the final award. Alternatively, where it is not possible for a victim to take out a litigation loan, or they have been subject to economic abuse and are concerned by the prospect of more debt, a Legal Services Payment Order can be sought. This type of order compels the other party to pay a sum to cover legal fees.

Preservation of Assets

During proceedings, the perpetrator of abuse may try to put the assets out of the reach of the court and their partner’s reach by transferring them into crypto currency, to a third party or abroad. Where this is a risk, applications to register notices or restrictions against property owned by the perpetrating party at the Land Registry should be considered, along with Freezing Orders. If, over the course of proceedings, the economic abuser fails to make full and frank disclosure of their finances or respect court orders, such behaviour may amount to ‘litigation misconduct’, and result in sanctions ranging from costs orders to imprisonment.

Despite convictions for theft fraud, and forgery of documents in Israel, Simon Leviev has never accepted any wrongdoing and says it was the women who were at fault. If you identify economic abuse in your relationship, it is important to seek help from a solicitor who is well versed in dealing with cases which involve this type of abuse as soon as possible, as they will know how to shield you and help you start rebuilding your life.

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