Don’t get ‘sharked’ by the money lenders

THE England Illegal Money Lending Team, in partnership with Thurrock Council are cracking down this Christmas on loan sharks who cause nothing but misery in communities.

Through enforcement action, awareness raising and education they aim to put an end to this callous crime and encourage the public to celebrate the season without turning to an illegal money lender.

The message is clear- what may seem like a small loan to tide people over for Christmas, could end up costing them well into the New Year and beyond. The effect is not just financial; the impact on the lives of victims and their families can be horrific.

To highlight the impact the England Illegal Money Lending Team have released a video compilation of real life victim’s stories, in which those who have suffered at the hands of loan sharks explain in their own words how horrendous their experiences were. Watch the video on You Tube:

Education and awareness has been raised in Thurrock with the shark attending community events to hit the message home.

The team which investigates and prosecutes illegal money lenders fears loan sharks will prey on those who are struggling financially in the run up to Christmas- in fact 20 per cent of victims in past cases stated that they had borrowed originally to pay for festivities.

No matter how desperate people become loan sharks are never the answer.

In the majority of cases victims are introduced to the lender either through a friend, family member or because they are known in the community. They believe they are offering them a service but their behaviour can quickly change.

Loan sharks rarely offer paperwork and are unclear on the terms of the loan, so borrowers are completely in the dark as to how much they are actually paying. Extra amounts and interest payments are added completely at random, so the debt spirals to be never-ending.

The team has dealt with victims who have paid tens of thousands of pounds back on small loans over a number of years, and those who’ve been forced to hand over their bank card and their PIN so the loan shark will completely control their finances leaving them with nothing to get by on.

As the debts can’t legally be enforced, the lenders will often resort to threats, violence and other extreme methods to enforce repayment.

The team has investigated some of the most threatening and violent loan sharks and prosecuted them through the courts- including loan sharks who have threatened to harm victim’s families and pets, throw acid into their face or burn down their homes.

They have also seen cases were actual violence has been used including a victim who was kidnapped and attacked with a machete and a female victim who was raped.

In many cases the loan sharks are involved in wider criminality including drugs and firearms offences, but the England Illegal Money Lending Team will prosecute for all offences.

The team, along with units in Scotland and Wales have already secured 218 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to almost 140 years worth of custodial sentences.

They have written off almost £40 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 19,000 victims. Several investigations and court cases are ongoing.

They will continue to raise awareness, along with partner agencies across the country in the run up to Christmas and are launching several local campaigns initiatives and events to reach communities. They will also be encouraging people
to avoid loan sharks through their social networking sites Twitter: @loansharknews and Facebook: www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject

Thurrock Council portfolio holder for Public Protection, Cllr Angie Gaywood said: “Loan sharks are criminals who prey vulnerable people.

“Individuals should never approach them for help, no matter what their situation it will not be worth it. But anyone who has been desperate enough to use a loan shark that they have done nothing wrong and should report the details immediately.”

Tony Quigley Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said “No matter how much you are struggling financially, loan sharks are not the answer. They are motivated only by their own greed and are not offering you a service. These criminals should always be avoided at all costs. They could easily ruin your Christmas and you could be subjected to years of harassment, paying back your loan several times over. We’d recommend credit unions as a safe and legal alternative- visit www.abcul.org to find your nearest one.

If you have been the victim of a loan shark, help is at hand, call 0300 555 2222 to speak to us in confidence. Our lines are answered 24/7 by a trained investigator throughout the festive season.”

To report a loan shark:

Call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222

Text ‘loan shark + your message’ to 60003

E-mail reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk

Private message us on www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject

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