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New Netflix series 'Ozark' is full of money advice you shouldn't take

  • In this instance life shouldn't imitate art.
  • Advisor-turned-criminal flouts the rules — a lot.

A new Netflix drama series "Ozark" (think "Breaking Bad" on water) focuses on corrupt Chicago-based financial advisor Marty Byrde, who launders money for Mexican drug dealers.

While you may not see this scenario play out in real life, the show does give investors plenty of red flags and warnings to consider with whoever is managing their money.

Warning: Spoilers below.

When Byrde's business partner decides to skim some cash from the cartel, the bad guys don't take too kindly to that. Byrde (played by Jason Bateman) flees with his wife, Wendy, (Laura Linney) and kids — after convincing the cartel he can hide even more money among those rubes at Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks in return for sparing his life.

Jason Bateman and Laura Linney star in Netflix's series Ozark.
Source: Netflix
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney star in Netflix's series Ozark.

That the locals prove to be as crafty as Marty is one of the conceits of the program. The cast of characters includes "hillbillies" who live in broken-down mobile homes, a rogue FBI agent who trashes motel rooms and seduces a witness and local drug dealers who distribute their wares in hollowed-out hymnals at a pastor's weekly sermon on the lake.

Along the way, a bunch of financial advice is ladled out — most of which is questionable at best. Here's a sampler:

Not properly vetting your adviser

Marty's partner is a master at sweet-talking new clients, essentially hustling them to sign on with the firm. Scant evidence is offered about their qualifications. The message for you: Never pick an advisor without doing your homework. (See our graphic below for the best tips.) Just because Aunt Tillie vouches for him is not good enough.

Ironically, the one who does do some checking is the cartel's rep (Esai Morales) who goes around town testing advisors with a set of cooked books. Only Marty, a purported numbers whiz, is clever enough to spot the rounding errors (huh?) on the balance sheet signifying siphoned-off cash. The cartel's previous advisor is later murdered (not recommended).

Handing over cash

An advisor shouldn't be holding your cash and investments. That's what custodians like Schwab, Fidelity and Vanguard are there to do.

Be suspicious of performance statements that come solely from an advisor that you can't verify with the actual firm that has custody of your money. Make sure you can access your accounts either electronically or over the phone or by walking into a branch office. That's one way how Bernie Madoff duped his clients for years — with fake statements.

High-pressure sales tactics

In several episodes, potential clients are told a "fund" was about to close or was "not accepting" any more new clients unless they buy in and pony up cash. If you hear this sort of nonsense, get up and leave. No reputable advisor should ever deal this way.

Withdrawing $8 million (in cash) from a bank

OK, it should be pretty obvious why this is a not a smart move. Not to mention that U.S. banks must inform the federal government of any transaction of more than $10,000. Kind of a bad idea if you're a money launderer.

Buying unregistered securities

Another red flag. In the series, Marty pressures an unsuspecting local to fork over more than $900,000 for an unspecified "fund." While selling unregistered securities is generally illegal, there are instances where it's permitted to so-called accredited investors, meaning those who have a certain level of assets and are therefore deemed to be "sophisticated." Sadly, that's often not the case, making them ripe targets for this type of scam.

Making investments without any due diligence

In his rush to spread the drug money around, Marty invests in a failing motel/bar, a strip club and a mortuary, all with predictable bad results. The takeaway for you: Never make an investment that you don't thoroughly understand, be it a business or any other opportunity where money is involved. A 90-page prospectus full of legal jargon Alan Dershowitz couldn't decipher means you probably can't either. Absent a very, very clear understanding of what you're buying and the risks involved, just walk away.