A VULNERABLE ex-police officer was conned out of £500,000 by a scammer just weeks after her husband died.
Anne Larkin, 55, was feeling “totally isolated” during lockdown when she was preyed upon by a crook who took advantage of her grief.
Anne Larkin was preyed on by lonely hearts scammers during lockdownCredit: Facebook
The conman, named as Clinton, first messaged the amateur photographer to compliment on her work.
But his messages soon turned from innocent chat into emotional blackmail that saw Anne hand over almost every penny her late husband left her.
Police are now investigating the scam – with Anne, from Hornsea, aware she forked out more than £360,000.
But she fears the true amount could be closer to £500,000 after being taken in by a second fraudster, the Daily Mail reports.
The ex-special constable said: “Looking back, I ask myself ‘what were you thinking?’ but, at the time, I felt totally isolated and dissociated from reality, separated from my family and friends. I just wasn’t in my right mind.
“The year after Graham died was a complete blur. During the pandemic, all the days seemed to blend into one and it felt like I had no one to talk to. I completely lost touch with reality.
“These people start off by being your friend, a shoulder to cry on when you’re at your very lowest. I wasn’t looking for romance, just someone to talk to.
“Then, once they have won your trust, they start asking for small amounts of money and it just spirals until one day you wake up and realise there’s nothing left.”
Anne was left devastated when husband of 34 years Graham tragically passed away in November 2019 from liver and kidney failure.
Her grief was magnified during the Covid pandemic as she and the rest of the country were plunged into lockdown.
TRICKED BY LIES
It was at her lowest point when she was struggling to sleep that she first heard from Clinton.
He told her he was a US Army medic from New Jersey who was serving in Yemen.
Clinton spun a tragic tale for Anne – claiming he had lost his wife and daughter in a car accident and that his son was missing in the US.
A former police officer, Anne was careful not to put any personal information on the photography site where the scammer first messaged her.
But taken in by Clinton’s lies, she began to open up and tell her own story of grief and a friendship was formed.
The crook’s messages started off with the conman offering sympathy to Anne but soon he began to share his bank details, along with sob stories aimed at tugging at the widow’s heartstrings.
Anne said he started off asking for a small amount of money he promised to pay back but his demands spiralled.
‘I WAS VERY VULNERABLE’
It was around this time that lonely Anne was also targeted by a second fraudster, who claimed to be an actor who wanted to help poverty-stricken children.
He convinced the vulnerable widow her cash could help those less fortunate than herself.
Clouded by her own grief and loneliness, it was too late when Anne realised she had sent the scammers hundreds of thousands of pounds.
She said: “I know people will ask, ‘How could you be so stupid, so gullible?’ I’ve asked myself the same question so many times.
“All I can say is that I was very vulnerable after Graham died, a soft touch. But I’m convinced I would never have parted with so much money if it hadn’t been for lockdown. Never.”
Anne only brought the scams to an end when one of the crooks began mentioning marriage, which she says opened her eyes.
The mum says she is speaking out to warn others who may be feeling lonely due to the pandemic.
She said: “If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”
The widow reported her case in January but she is not holding out hope of getting her money back.
Det Sgt Ben Robinson, from Humberside Police, said: ‘These professional criminals are master manipulators who create a false reality with the victims.
“Once the money has left the UK, it’s very difficult to follow the trail and trace the culprits, so there is virtually zero chance of bringing them to justice.”
Some of the messages Anne receivedCredit: ITV CALENDAR
Anne said she was very vulnerable when she was contacted by the scammersCredit: Facebook
She lost around £500,000 from her savingsCredit: ITV CALENDAR
The mum is now speaking out to warn othersCredit: ITV CALENDAR