SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — One of the most popular documentaries streaming right now is The Tinder Swindler. It’s the story of how women were duped by a man they met on the popular dating app who claimed to be someone he wasn’t. While that story is international, KELOLAND has its own con artist who used dating apps to gain women’s trust and take advantage of them. Our KELOLAND News Investigation follows the trail of The Bumble Bandit.

These days, finding the love of your life, or at least a date for a Saturday night is as simple as swiping left or right on an app like Tinder or Bumble.

Sarah, who asked that we don’t identify her, decided to try online dating after getting out of a long-term relationship.

“Tinder is more of a hookup app, where Bumble is more of where people are looking for relationships,” Sarah said.

Matthew Stephen Nelson

Sarah matched with this man on Bumble: Matthew Stephen Nelson.

“Sarah:” He was a good-looking guy, he was very good with his words.
Kennecke: So tell me, did you swipe right?
“Sara:” Yeah.

The two hit it off, and Sarah, who was working as a wedding photographer, invited Nelson to help with a shoot.

“He was so helpful, it was amazing. He charmed everybody who was there; complimented me the whole time–how great I was at my job. Who doesn’t want to hear that?” Sarah said.

Sarah says Nelson seemed almost too good to be true.

“We talked a lot. He came over quite a bit. All my friends loved him. There was no question in anybody’s mind, about who he was. Who he presented himself as, is who we thought he was,” Sarah said.

Nelson told her he was a construction manager for his dad’s company.

“He would be telling me, this is the duty I’m doing today. I’m welding today; I’m in the heat today. And then when I saw him at the end of the day, he was all sweaty. And he looked like he had been doing construction,” Sarah said.

One evening, just before they were about to head out on a date, Sarah opened her camera bag.

“He comes to me and says, ‘I just checked the back door.’ He said, ‘there’s a whole bunch of marks on it. I think somebody broke in,'” Sarah said.

Sarah called the police and the officer asked if she thought Nelson took the equipment.

Sarah: I’m like, ‘no–no way could it be him.’ I made the mistake of pointing out things that were of value that had not been stolen.
Kennecke: To him?
Sarah: To him, yes.
Sarah: When I knew it was him was when I returned home later that week and the rest of my stuff was missing.

That stuff included cash and this ring, that Sarah says is worth $4,000.
Meanwhile, Nelson’s phone was suddenly turned off and he was unavailable.

Sarah’s missing ring

“It was my first experience with online dating,” “Ashley” said.

Immediately after dating Sarah, Nelson moved on, meeting another woman, this time through Tinder. She asked that we not show her face, and we’re calling her “Ashley.”

“He was super dreamy, he was super attractive, so sweet, so kind, he would say all these things he had going for him. He was always available if I ever needed anything,” Ashley said.

Ashley showed us these videos of Nelson playing with her child. As a single mom, Ashley worked several jobs, including as a waitress. Shortly after meeting Nelson, cash she had in tips vanished, but she chalked it up to construction workers who’d been in her home.

“Matt didn’t look like a bad guy. He didn’t fit the narrative of someone who is going to go into your house and steal from you,” Ashley said.

Then she got a phone call from Nelson’s father.

“His dad pretty much just told me the truth about him entirely. He said go check all your valuables because Matt probably stole more than you think he did. And the only real thing I had of significant value, was my wedding ring,” Ashley said.

As you may have guessed, the ring, worth thousands of dollars, was gone.

“Matt took my wedding ring, took it to a pawn shop and pawned it for $200,” Ashley said.

Nelson’s father bought it back and returned it to Ashley.

KELOLAND Investigates contacted Matt’s father about the incident, but he declined to be interviewed.
However, Sarah paid him a visit after Matt stole from her and recorded the following conversation with Matt’s dad on her phone.

“Matt’s a smart kid, good looking kid, nice personality. But such a manipulating liar,” his dad said.

He told Sarah how their entire family had been victimized by his son.

“He’s done it to me, he’s done it to his grandma, his mother. There is no reason not to believe him, right, when he was talking to you. Yeah. Everything he’s telling you–it’s totally believable. That’s how deep he’s into his lies. However, he doesn’t work here,” he said.

He told her they’d put Matt in treatment for a gambling addiction, but it hadn’t stopped Matt from continuing to commit crimes.

“We’ve probably spent $40,000 to $50,000 bailing him out, trying to help him. But he can’t help himself,” he said.

Sarah learned the truth during that conversation.

“He lied and said he was a manager of his dad’s construction company and he wasn’t. He was unemployed.
He told me he was living in an apartment close to where I lived, where I had picked him up from before; to find out he actually didn’t live there and was homeless and living out of his car.”

“Sarah,” victim of Matthew Nelson

Prosecutors charged Matt Nelson with grand theft and for being a habitual offender for stealing Sarah’s camera equipment. Then Nelson disappeared for nearly two years.

“And so between the time this happened to me and now, there was tons of time for him to do plenty of criminal activity, which he continued to do,” Sarah said.

Ashley says she is living proof of that, but she never reported the theft to the police because she got her ring back.

Kennecke: Did it affect your ability to trust other people? Were you hurt by this? What did it do to you?
Ashley: It changed my perspective on dating and trusting people. You can be whoever you want to be on the internet.

Meanwhile, KELOLAND Investigates dug into Nelson’s criminal background dating back to 2007. He has theft and fraud convictions in Iowa and Minnesota.

He was also convicted in Clay County of a check forgery scheme in 2015.

Nelson’s father told Sarah what happened during their conversation.

“His brother is in medical school. He stole his brother’s car. He stole his brother’s identity, took his ID, his passport, and racked up $13,000 to $14,000 in loans. Wrote checks on his account, stole of the money out of his account and he stole his car,” Matt’s dad said.

For those charges, a judge sentenced Nelson to 5 years in prison and ordered him to pay back nearly $9,000. To date, he hasn’t paid a dime.

But that’s not all, in addition to the charges for stealing Sarah’s photography equipment, Nelson faces even more grand theft charges, accused of stealing his father’s company credit card and brother’s identity in 2019 to buy tools in Sioux Falls and then pawn them.

“How bad do we feel? Giving, giving, giving, then he steals from us. We keep giving and he steals again,” Matt’s dad said

After two years on the run, Nelson was found in the Omaha area and pleaded guilty to stealing Sarah’s cameras.

Lincoln County State’s Attorney, Tom Wollman prosecuted the case:

“People don’t come with warning labels on them. You find out, especially in individuals with sociopathic character traits, and I’m not here to say Matthew Nelson is a sociopath, but sociopaths hold themselves out as individuals who are very charming, gregarious, super friendly, say all the right things, do all the right things, and ultimately what you find is it’s just a house of cards.’

Lincoln County State’s Attorney, Tom Wollman
Lincoln County State’s Attorney, Tom Wollman, prosecuted the grand theft case, involving the camera equipment, against Matthew Nelson

The judge sentenced Nelson to four years in prison and ordered him to pay back more than $10,000 to Sarah.

“It’s a complete betrayal. You open yourself up to somebody with the intention of them loving you and caring about you and thinking they have your best interests at heart. And then to find out they were actually using you, there are no words to describe that,” Sarah said.

“Definitely be more cautious, with online dating especially, it’s the internet. Matt wasn’t anything like he said he was. But he said the same thing to how many different women and we all believed it,” Ashley said.

Nelson is scheduled for a jury trial for the latest grand theft charges in June. He is currently serving his prison sentence for taking Sarah’s equipment. but he could be released within a couple of years.

We asked to speak to him for this story through his attorney, but never received a response.