Yorkshire woman who had to watch husband die and lose her own home conned out of £500,000 by evil fraudsters

Watching the waves crash into the rocks, Anne Larkin is reminded of the healing her broken heart still has to do, and how, not so many months ago, she considered taking her own life by walking out into the sea.

Anne Larkin lost around £500,000 to romance fraudsters.

Her heartache is not only caused by the untimely death of her husband of 34 years, but by two evil and calculating 'men' who prayed on her grief to groom her into parting with £500,000 of her savings as she fell victim to romance fraud.

Watching her husband, Graham, the man she had known since she was a teenager, die of liver and kidney failure in November 2019, led Mrs Larkin, of Hornsea, into a troubled state of mind.

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On top of her grief, she found herself homeless due to circumstances out of her control, and was living with her daughter when the first national lockdown was imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

"I remember thinking that I could just walk out into the sea and disappear and no-one would know," the 55-year-old widow told The Yorkshire Post.

"But, there was somebody else walking on the promenade at that moment and that stopped me."

Mrs Larkin, who has a passion for photography, was first approached by a man named Clinton Jones, on an online picture sharing community, called Viewbug, at the end of December 2019.

After striking up a conversation about her work, Mr Jones - who claimed to be a serving American soldier in Yemen - told Mrs Larkin he had endured a double tragedy in his personal life, having lost both his wife and daughter in a motorbike accident.

"He started to tell me how difficult he was finding it in Yemen with all the conflict and it would have been mid-way through February when he first asked me for money to help buy him out of his military contract," Mrs Larkin said.

"Foolishly I sent it over, I can't remember how much I sent, but I did it and I sent more again in March."

It was only when he started to talk about bringing diamonds into the UK to come and see Mrs Larkin that her suspicions were aroused.

"I told him he couldn't do that and that you had to be a business to do that sort of thing.

“That's when I knew I didn't want to be involved with someone like that, whether it be a friendship or a relationship."

A second man, who purported to be an actor from America, contacted Mrs Larkin through Facebook, a day after what would have been her husband's birthday in February 2020.

Again, he focused on her love of photography and a friendship was formed.

He would also tell her about a children's charity he was heavily involved with, before asking for money to help with the scheme.

Mrs Larkin said: "It was always about the kids. He sent me an image of what the homeless complex would look like and the dormitories where they would stay and what they would eat.

“Everything he said was viable. Even a normal person not going through what I was would have done exactly the same.

"I was not looking for romance. It was just someone to talk to, especially on an evening.

“Most people who have lost a partner have a home to go to and a private place to grieve, but I didn't have that."

Concerns began to mount, however, when the man asked her to sell her house and car, a couple of days before Christmas last year, to come and see her.

"I thought that if he was an actor, he wouldn't have needed my money at all," she said.

Mrs Larkin decided to contact Action Fraud in January this year.

Her bank is still going through how much money she has lost, but it is estimated to be in the region of £500,000.

"I didn't realise it was fraud at the time," she said.

"Looking back now and the messages they wrote to me, it was a form of grooming. They were targeting someone who was at their most vulnerable.

“If I had had my own home to go to, I don't think I would have been as much as an easy target.

"I was waking up crying, going to bed crying and crying in the middle of the day, but I would never let anybody see me cry.

“People outside were shying away from me as they didn't know what to say to me. To everyone outside my front door, I was coping OK because that's what I made them believe.

"They were the only ones that were prepared to listen to how I was feeling."

Now, 15 months after her husband's death, Mrs Larkin says she is in a better place mentally and wants to help others who have fallen victim to romance fraud.

"This type of fraud is not the same as anything else. It is like getting mind-raped, that is the only way I can describe it," she said.

"Lockdown made it easier for them to get to me. If I had been able to get away and work through the grief, this wouldn't have happened.

“I would do anything to try and get these people stopped and stop people feeling the same way I have.

“There were days where I just didn't want to get out of bed and times where I wanted to take my own life."

Mrs Larkin believes it will take more than a localised police approach to tackle the issue of romance fraud.

She said: "Romance fraud is not localised, it is worldwide because of where the perpetrators are and where the funds are going - my money went all over, America, Italy and Austria.

"It needs a completely different task force with officers from around the world working together. That is the only way they will be able to get a better grasp of how these groups work."

However, romance fraud has not solely affected individuals, as it has had a devastating effect on families of victims as well.

Richard, who asked that his surname is not published to protect his identity, spoke to The Yorkshire Post after his mother was conned out of her life-savings by a man she met online.

To this day, she still refuses to believe she is a victim, choosing the conman over her own family and losing £10,000 in the process.

Richard, 53, said: "The man told her he had a sick son who needed medical care and because she was so in love with him, she would do anything he asked."

Suspicious that his mother was parting with her money, her son kept a closer eye on her and discovered she was making regular trips to the Post Office and had sent money for the man’s 'sick son' and also paid for a visa so he could visit her.

By this time, the Post Office had become concerned about the payments and alerted the authorities.

She was stopped from making withdrawals at her local branch, but she continued to attempt to send money to countries including Ghana and Nigeria using other businesses across Sheffield.

She also borrowed money from friends, and one made payments on Richard's mother's behalf, wrongly believing she was helping.

"Mum even pawned some of her jewellery to get more money to send to him," Richard said.

"She lost about £10,000 in total and that's when I took over her power of attorney, but unfortunately she decided to cancel that last year and now has control of her money again.

"She is still talking to him now and sending him money, despite living her life on the breadline again. They've basically groomed her.

"She has not only lost her friends over it all, but she has chosen him over her own family.

"We warned her repeatedly, but she refuses to listen to us."

The whole situation has hit Richard so hard that he has ended up having to go to counselling sessions and has also been prescribed anti-depressants by his doctor.

He said: "I believe if I hadn't been on this medication I would have had a full breakdown by now."

He added that he wants the police to have more powers when it comes to investigating the offences.

He said: "My mum didn't want any further police action and therefore their hands were tied, but there really needs to be laws giving police forces more power when something like this happens.”

Lockdown has been attributed to the rise in the number of people falling foul of romance fraud, with scammers preying on those who are vulnerable and isolated.

Widower Peter, of Sheffield, found his attention turning to online dating sites during the first lockdown, with disastrous consequences.

He said: "I was bored stupid and felt like I had nobody to talk to.

"My wife died from pneumonia back in 2010 and I have been alone ever since. You know what men are like, they don't make friends like women do and I didn't feel like I had anyone to talk to, I was so lonely.”

Peter, 73, was conned out of around £10,000 by two fraudsters posing as women - one pretending to be an English nurse working in Ghana, and a beautician in America, who could not get home due to lockdown restrictions.

He also fell victim to a different romance fraud in a chat room where "members" pay for every message they receive from a "date".

He found himself receiving threats from criminals perpetrating to be debt collectors, stating bailiffs would be sent to his home if he did not pay.

He said:"It left me having a considerable number of sleepless nights. At first you are pretty sure it is a scam but it's those thoughts at 3am of 'what if it isn't?'

"They manipulate your fears."

He added: "I feel like a fool. I am relieved it is all over now. It has shown me how evil and manipulative people can be. I am also surprised at how credible people can be.

"They are certainly looking for the vulnerable and lonely."