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A GMP volunteer has spoken of her pride at being able to offer a listening ear to victims of crime, almost three decades after reaching out for support following a battle with her mental health which nearly ended her life.
Maureen Harrop, fondly known as Mo, is one of a team of 'Scambusters' giving their time to speak to victims of fraud to offer them support and help them from being scammed again.
The team was formed in 2018 within GMP's Economic Crime Unit (ECU) based at Nexus House and Mo's role sees her routinely contacting victims on the phone, with the main purpose of giving them someone to talk to after the ordeal of being fraudulently stolen from.
The value of offering a service to members of the public experiencing difficult times is one that Mo is fully appreciative of, and says it's a role that can be a great support for people's mental health.
"Mainly it's older people that we contact and it might be £20 that they’ve be scammed of or £1000, and each one can have a massive impact on their life and their mental health - it can feel as bad as someone breaking into your home and going through your personal belongings.
"It can have a devastating affect and you can hear the distress on the phone when you speak to victims. We tell them that we (Scambusters) don’t investigate, but that we are there to give them reassurance and let them know that we're there for them while the crime is being detected.
"I'm not solving the crime but I'm making sure that they're alright, and picking up on how it's affected them. We can pick up on that quickly and we might hear tears on the phone and be comforting them, or be contacting their family on their behalf, and providing a service like that is so important."
In her 72 years, Mo herself has experienced first-hand the benefits of having a listening ear to turn to in tough times, after suffering with severe mental health problems and a life-threatening alcohol-dependency in her early 40s.
Almost three decades on since reaching sobriety, Mo is involved in a host of initiatives and dedicates much of her time encouraging others to speak out about their mental health struggles, including chairing meetings for a programme dedicated to supporting victims of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Mo added: "The reason I do this is because 27 years ago I nearly died from alcoholism, I went right down in the depths of it and that is an illness of the mind - the drink is but a symptom.
"I know what it felt like to be at rock bottom and not having anybody to turn to. There were people I could’ve turned to - there were phone numbers or anonymous numbers I could ring and say 'I've got a problem, I need help', which was a massive thing to do.
"I reached out for help, I know how important that is whether you've been the victim of a scam, dating fraud, domestic violence, anything at all - the key is to reach out and know that help is there and that is the support that groups like us are there to give."
Mo is one of the original members of the Scambusters team and in her three years has spoken to victims of economic crime varying from telephone scams, to online scams and doorstep crime - the team made 2700 calls to vulnerable members of the community to help stop them falling victim to fraud between March 2020 and April 2021 alone.
In the year prior to the pandemic, the team attended 40 community events promoting prevention advice and Mo would also occasionally assist officers on home visits to offer support, and it is work that has been recognised as highly valuable by the ECU.
Looking back on her three years in the role, Mo reflected fondly: "I had low self-esteem when I applied for the role but being part of the team has really boosted my confidence and the officers have been so supportive and so grateful of what we do.
"I would say more than 90% of calls we make end with a positive outcome, whether the victim feels more confident or has a greater understanding of the warning signs of fraud. They feel better being more aware and knowing that the police care.
"I get a lot of satisfaction from when someone says 'thank you' and 'I'm glad somebody cares' and we can help point them in the right direction to encourage them to ask for help. If I can help one person along the way, that's enough for me."
More information about mental wellbeing can be found on the Mental Health Foundation website here: www.mentalhealth.org.uk