Could “Dirty John” Happen To You?! How to Avoid the Dangers of Online Dating

Dec 7, 2018 | Crime Alert, Dating, Safety Smart, Safety Tips

Maybe you listened to the podcast or watch the Bravo series: Dirty John. It’s based on the all-too-real true story of a successful businesswoman who joined a dating site and met the man of her dreams. Or so she thought.

Debra Newell was 59 when she met Dr. John Meehan through a website for singles over 50. She was a rich interior designer who had been unlucky with love. Then she found John, a handsome, charming doctor.

He did all those perfect boyfriend things – like roses, presents, expensive jewelry…By date number 3, John told Debra that he was “madly in love” with her. He said he wanted to marry her. Within two months they actually tied the knot. Her daughters were suspicious, but she was so blinded by love, she couldn’t see the signs. It turns out, her daughters’ instincts were spot on.

John had a nickname… “Dirty John”, and he earned it from his past of deceiving, blackmailing and lying to women. He had such a reputation as a predator that women posted about him on a site called, saying “he is very persuasive. Emotionally needy… slick liar.”

Debra had no idea what was coming for her. We won’t spoil the ending… but it’s insane!

Unfortunately, this true crime story is not fiction. And, as crazy as it was, it’s also not an isolated case. Predators like John exist on every online dating website. And like John, they’re very good at explaining away all the lies. John even showed up late to dates in scrubs to convince women he was a doctor.

Christopher Goffard, who created the podcast that inspired the TV series, describes Dirty John as a “cautionary tale about the ways that a sociopath, like a predator, can find the victim and tell these victims exactly what they want to hear.” It’s a warning for anyone using dating sites to find love.

Here are 4 top tips from experts on how to stay safe while looking for love online:

1. Don’t give all of your information away

“Don’t give all of the details of your life away to someone you barely just met. People who have a mind to control someone else are looking for avenues by which they can make that control happen” says Janice Miller from the House of Ruth Maryland. This means: don’t give away any financial or private personal details right off the bat. And try not to overshare. John would ask women to send him intimate photos of themselves, only to turn around and blackmail them later on.

2. Put a limit on the alcohol

Call us old-fashioned, sure, but consider making the first date an alcohol-free experience. And if you must meet at a bar, Det. Trent Thurber from the LA Sheriff’s department suggests setting a limit on the amount of alcohol you consume. He also added “Don’t let someone bring a drink to you unless you see it come straight from the bar or waitstaff” in an interview with the LA Times. Rape by intoxication is a real thing. Since 2015, there have been 85 reported incidents in LA… and we know the majority of sexual abuse cases are not reported to the police.

3. Set boundaries

“One thing a person can do if they’re feeling unsure is set a limit and see whether or not the person will respect that limit. If you say, ‘Look, I have a lot going on in my life right now, could we just agree to only communicate in the evenings,’ and then see if the person tries to contact you during the day time” said Miller. This will tell you a lot about the other person and whether they can respect your boundaries… especially before things get intimate. Remember, abusers will push those boundaries to the extreme, so get a gauge early on.

4. It’s ok to do a little nosing around.

Never feel bad about checking social media, blogs like, or other sources that could give warning signs about the person you’re considering. Even celebrity chef Devin Alexander told the Los Angeles Times that she googles every date. “You’d be surprised what I’ve found. Everything from people’s addresses to engagement announcements, to someone selling an engagement ring on Craigslist,” Alexander said. “This stuff can lead to learning who the person really is.”

But online sleuthing isn’t always enough. The best, easiest way to really know if you can trust the other person is by asking for their SafetyPIN before meeting them in real life. A SafetyPIN provides a fast track to trust, and one of the best ways to use it is for online dating. That’s because SafetyPIN’s algorithm looks into criminal and financial history, but more than that…it uses a behavioral profile to identify the type of behavior men like John work to hide.

But the Dirty Johns out there can’t outsmart our forensic psychologist or criminal profilers. So if someone doesn’t have a SafetyPIN or won’t apply, swipe left and say “thank you, next.”

It only costs $1 to apply, and applications are usually processed within 24 hours, so it’s a simple and easy way to know if someone has red flags, without asking those awkward questions. All you have to do is ask for the other person’s SafetyPIN, and once you verify it, you’ll have instant peace of mind and can enjoy your date.

Watch this short video to learn more about how asking for a SafetyPIN can keep you safer:

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