Personal Finance

'Dirty John' has scary dating tales and more than a few financial red flags to watch for

Key Points
  • Do your own due diligence on a prospective romantic partner, and don’t take everything the other person says at face value — especially when there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.
  • Real-life con victim Debra Newell rushed into a committed relationship with serial grifter John Meehan after knowing him a short time.
  • Here’s a list of some financial red flags Newell could have spotted.
DIRTY JOHN -- 'One Shoe' Episode 106 -- Pictured: Connie Britton as Debra Newell -- (Photo by: Jordin Althaus/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Bravo | NBCUniversal | Getty Images

The new Bravo limited-run TV series "Dirty John" is based on the popular true crime podcast of the same name about a real-life California woman who falls in love with an alleged con man. With no visible means of support or home of his own, John Meehan (played by Eric Bana) still manages to snag the affections of Debra Newell (Connie Britton), who owns a successful interior design company in Southern California.

After connecting online and chatting on the phone a few times, Newell and Meehan meet in person. From the minute he appears at her door, the red flags start cropping up.

Most of the show's buzz is about how Newell could fall for a serial romantic predator, but the series also reveals some serious money miscues.

To that point, people who enter relationships in their 40s and 50s might want to make sure they have a good sense of a prospective partner's own stability, not just emotionally but financially.

Warning: Series spoilers below.

Don't flaunt it

If you've got it, enjoy it. But too much flash can attract the wrong people, which Newell found out the hard way. For her first date with a man she's met on a website, she allows him to come to her extremely expensive and beautifully furnished home.

When Newell's daughter Veronica (played by Juno Temple) opens the door, she's struck by his sloppy clothes and the way he immediately starts zeroing in on pricey objets d'art.

Play it a little cautious when meeting a complete stranger for the first time, and don't give too much away about how you live.

Investing in alternatives

Can a Chanel bag be a sound investment? Sure. Just be like Veronica and treat those bags like gold, which they are in a sense.

When someone seems a little too interested in those handbags, pay attention. Meehan spots Veronica choosing a handbag and asks, "What's in the safe, kiddo?" She's immediately on high alert.

Yes, Veronica keeps her handbags in a safe. After every use, she empties the bag and tidies it up. The payoff? When she needs money to hire a detective to trail her mom's sketchy boyfriend, she is able to name her price at an upscale resale shop.

A dating app centered on women safety?

Creative accounting

Meehan asks Newell, who poses as an anesthesiologist, to deposit around $10,000 cash in her account, because so many of his patients are uninsured and they pay in cash. He can't deposit the money, which he claims he's reported to the IRS, in his own account, because of his ex-wife. He needs to be a little creative in his accounting.

Newell then offers to put the money with her own cash.

So many warning bells. First, nobody goes to a hospital with a wallet full of hundreds to pay for surgery. If he is hiding assets from an ex, clearly there's a lot of trouble still hanging around from this previous relationship.

Be wary of anyone who says they need to be a little creative in their accounting. What do they mean by "creative"? What does the IRS think of this strategy?

Don't commingle cash assets. Especially with someone who says he's creative in his accounting.

Cash on hand

Newell keeps a stash in case of an earthquake. She does, after all, live in California.

Plenty of people like to have some cash in the house in case of an emergency. Keeping a couple of fifties or a few hundred — even a thousand — isn't the worst idea in the world. If a storm knocks out power and your bank's ATMs aren't accessible, you might be glad to have cash for a few days' expenses.

But hiding $80,000 or $90,000 — she is unsure of the amount — in cash in a bag in a dresser drawer is nuts. And, in Newell's case, not knowing the precise amount is a recipe for disaster.

A stray $10,000 here or there adds up. Put that money in a safe place where it can grow.

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Hasty real estate decisions

Most people probably don't have to worry about this, but spending $84,000 because you've fallen in love with a beach house while strolling through a beautiful resort island is ill advised.

Newell offers a year's rent up front in exchange for a discount on the monthly rent.

Proceed with caution, says the real estate website Zillow. What if the house burns down? What if there's a flood and you have to move out?

Even if the year goes without a hitch, why tie up that money when it could be invested in something with a bigger return?

Listen to your friends

Veronica dislikes Meehan at first sight. She calls him creepy, a bad dresser and a gold digger. When Newell points out that Veronica criticized previous boyfriends, Veronica says, "It's possible there's more than one creep on the planet."

In other words, your friends and family can sometimes see things you cannot. Maybe listen to them — especially if more than one person raises the same objections.

Financial profiling

To prove his claim as a doctor, Meehan walks around in scrubs. Maybe interns and junior residents do this on occasion, but doctors in mid-career? Unusual, to say the least. Whether or not he owns a tux is irrelevant. Showing up at a fancy cancer benefit wearing scrubs is a real warning he's not who he says he is.

If it weren't for "child support and insane tax issues," Meehan would immediately rent that pricey bay-front house. Just where does he live? Why hasn't Newell met his kids? And where's his car? Veronica asks Newell why Meehan doesn't use his own car to run errands.

If Newell had done just a tiny bit of digging, she could easily have seen that Meehan's financial and professional claims were empty.