The Tinder Swindler in Spain

16 January 2023 - Marta Arroyo Vázquez

The successful Netflix series “The Tinder Swindler” is on everyone’s lips. The protagonist’s modus operandi coincides with the approach taken by a woman in a very similar case in Spain, which our firm successfully took to court.

In our case, the victim was a German manager, who met an attractive Romanian woman through the app Tinder. The woman lived in Mallorca, and he lived in Germany. They began a long-distance relationship that lasted almost a year, during which they only met in person a couple of times. One of the things that caught our client’s attention was that, during those few meetings, the woman appeared to be driving high-end cars and wearing luxury watches.

For nearly a year, the defendant and the victim maintained a sentimental relationship which the latter always believed to be sincere. As was judicially proven, the woman successfully made the victim believe that she was an affluent person, pretending to own a real estate agency and a beauty salon as well as the flat in which she lived in Palma de Mallorca, a semi-detached house in the Canary Islands and a house in Romania, all of which were proven to be devious lies.

The woman gained the victim’s trust and took advantage of the sentimental link to ask him for funds. She justified her need for money by saying she had to meet imminent expenses and was short of cash, since the court handling her divorce had seized her accounts. Under the pretext that the money would be returned to him as soon as the divorce court revoked the seizure, she got the victim to make multiple transfers to her during that year, totalling more than EUR 400,000. As was proven during the court proceedings, the victim’s accounts had never been seized. The woman’s shrewdness was such that, in order to ask the victim for money one more time, she improvised and falsified a document resembling a court agent’s invoice. Said alleged invoice, the woman told our client, had been issued by the court agent in the divorce proceedings, and claimed it needed to be paid urgently for the seizure of her accounts to be revoked and the marriage with her ex-husband ended, so that she would be free to be with the victim. Over the course of the investigation, it came to light that the bank account number on the alleged court agent’s invoice did not in fact belong to a court agent, but to a bank account that the woman had opened herself a few days earlier. From the outset we were convinced and defended the premise that our client had been the victim of fraud since the sentimental relationship was a sham based on lies; the sentimental relationship was simply a tool used by the defendant to get our client to lend her money. The victim lent her the funds because he always believed that she was a solvent person with occasional liquidity issues who could pay him back. As was proven, however, the defendant had no property whatsoever and, furthermore, the judicial seizure never existed.

In the defence of the victim’s interests, unfortunately, we did not have the support of the public prosecutor, who requested that the case be closed. During the investigation and the trial later on, the public prosecutor understood that the criminal charges against the woman would not be successful since, given the sentimental relationship between the parties, the so-called “excuse for absolution” (excusa absolutoria) set forth in Article 268 of the Spanish Criminal Code was applicable. The prosecutor believed the economic crime to have been committed within a stable relationship and criminal prosecution thus not to be possible. Hence, he argued that the victim had to resort to civil proceedings to claim the lent sums of money. The defence’s argument was that the sums had been paid in the form of loans, and that the victim would, therefore, have to resort to civil proceedings for the sums to be paid back.

In light of the supposed excuse for absolution argued by the public prosecutor, the Court of Appeals of Palma de Mallorca (Audiencia Provincial de Palma de Mallorca) considered it necessary to hold a trial in order to verify whether the circumstances of the case suggested the existence of a stable relationship. A stable relationship would have been characterised by the relationship’s length, stability, affection and sincerity, as well as sharing a home and plans for the future. If the relationship between the litigating parties had had these characteristics, it would have been possible to classify it as a stable relationship. In that case, the excuse for absolution would indeed have been applicable, and would have avoided the criminal prosecution of the defendant.

After years of investigation, several disagreements with the public prosecutor and a long trial, the Court of Appeals of Palma de Mallorca, after agreeing to hold the trial and examining the interrogations of the parties, the witnesses and the documents of the case, endorsed our argument and understood that the excuse for absolution was not applicable and thus all elements of the criminal offence of fraud were fulfilled. Consequently, the Court of Appeals of Palma de Mallorca sentenced the defendant, as the perpetrator of an ongoing offence of fraud, to four years and six months in prison and payment of the compensatory sum claimed amounting to more than EUR 400,000. This sentence was upheld in its entirety by the High Court of Justice of the Balearic Islands and, ultimately, by the Spanish Supreme Court.