A grieving widow was conned out of £500,000 by a fraudster posing as Scottish actor Gerard Butler.
Anne Larkin lost her husband, Graham, in November 2019 after a short-term illness, and became completely isolated from friends and family due to Covid lockdown restrictions just four months later.
On his death, she received a life-changing death-in-service payout of over £1.2m.
It was after this that the ex-special constable turned to social media for comfort, and was approached on Facebook Messenger by someone claiming to be Hollywood superstar Gerard Butler.
She joined Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on ITV’s This Morning on Tuesday to share her story.
When they first started messaging, “Gerard” told her that he was in the process of building a compound of schools, housing, outbuildings and a hospital for homeless families and children in America.
“He sent plans of what was being built, how it was being built, and were building funds to get it all built in one go,” Anne said.
She said that the largest amount she sent to the fraudster posing as the Paisley-born actor in a single payment was £20,000, believing that it was all for a charitable cause.
A few months before being approached by “Gerard”, she was targetted by another scammer posing as a grieving American soldier working with the UN in Yemen.
“Clinton” built his connection with Anne through social media as well, claiming to have lost his wife and daughter in a car crash five years prior.
Between “Clinton” and “Gerard”, Anne was defrauded out of £500,000. She never spoke to either of them on the phone, or face-to-face – all correspondence was text-based.
While many were sympathetic to Anne’s plight, some viewers on social media had a different reaction. One said they would “never understand why anyone would send money to a stranger you only know via internet/social media”.
Another even called for the implementation of “social media literacy training” to prevent older people from being scammed online.
When questioned on This Morning about the unsympathetic views of some people, Anne admitted: “There’s nothing anybody out there can say – any nasty, bad words about me – that I haven’t said myself.
“I’ve always said that – because they’ve even messaged me and I’ve said ‘you are entitled to your opinion’, and I completely agree with your opinion.
“I was stupid. I was all these bad words, but you need to think about how you would cope if you were going through what I was going through.”
In December 2019, a few months before Anne was targeted, the 52-year-old actor had warned fans against falling for scammers posing as him.
He wrote on his official Twitter at the time: “If anyone reaches out to you on the internet saying that they are me by email or otherwise, ignore them.”