How to Spot a ‘Dirty John’

Couple having a discussion

Are you dating a “dirty John”? | iStock/Getty Images Plus

The following is a guest post by Justin Lavelle, chief communications expert at, an online background check platform.

The term “Dirty John” refers to the true story of a woman named Debra Newell and her relationship with a man she met online, named John Meehan. It started out like any good love story, with lots of initial sparks. However, everything soon turned sour as Debra continuously ignored red flag after red flag. She and her family soon found out John was not who he seemed to be; and had taken advantage of more than one woman while having several criminal charges against him including gun and drug charges, as well as being a felon and having restraining orders against him. He was labeled “a ticking time bomb, capable of unpredictable violence.” The nickname “Dirty John” had been given to him by classmates.

In this day and age, it is so important to stay vigilant and safe with all the possible connections you can make, due to the internet. Not everyone is a good person or has your best interests at heart. Dating sites and even social media sites are the perfect places for predators like “Dirty John” to hunt. So how can you protect yourself? What are the signs and red flags to look for? Below are a few ways to spot a “Dirty John” for yourself and for any loved ones you suspect might be a victim to this type of person.

1. He has no social media profiles

Businessman or designer using laptop computer

Are his media profiles blank–or absent? | BrianAJackson/iStock/Getty Images

This is a red flag especially nowadays. Maybe an older person could get away with this one, but it is still good to be wary. Even if someone has profiles and they are relatively blank, this could mean the individual has things to hide. Do not be afraid to ask questions and do a little light prying. Personal safety is more important than being polite.

2. His personal life is a mystery

business man reading on his mobile phone

Who is he talking to? |

He never talks about family and you have never met any of his friends. Your love interest has never clearly said what he does for a living. These are all red flags to keep an eye out for. Family, friends, and work are usually the most important things in a person’s life. If he never engages in conversations involving these subjects, this is a very bad sign. There is a difference between being a “private person” and being suspiciously alone and unspecific.

3. Your friends and/or family have a bad gut feeling

Woman who is holding her head and looking worried

Listen to your friends and family members. | studiograndquest/

This will be more than that one aunt who never likes anyone griping about a new significant other. Introducing a prospective love to family and friends can bring some things out you might be blind to. Never underestimate first impressions made by those you trust. Ask them to be honest about their feelings and tell you anything they feel could be a serious issue.

4. Stories and timelines do not add up

Couple arguing while driving

Are his stories not making sense? | AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images

Maybe when you first met, he said he was an only child, but then tells you he has to help his sister with something. Beware of quick covers to stories like this such as “I just meant I was the only boy.” He may also try gaslighting you if you catch him in a lie. Do not fall for this tactic. You are not crazy. Call him out and do not back down. If he is a truly honest person, he will admit any lies and hopefully have a valid explanation.

5. It seems like he always needs money

Man with empty pocket

Is your new love always asking for money? That’s a red flag. | iStock/iStock/Getty Images

Maybe it only starts out as $20 dollars here and there. Then he suddenly has this big emergency story and “needs your help.” Be cautious of this sort of situation unless you have proof of what he is saying. Grown adults can usually take out loans and/or have people other than a new significant other to borrow money from. This is a very popular way for con artists to steal money from well-meaning people. Ask questions about the problem and if possible, get proof, and use your judgment if you feel he is being sincere.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this guest post.

Justin Lavelle is the chief communications expert at, an online background check platform.

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!