With an estimated 310,000 households in the UK borrowing from unlicensed lenders or loan sharks as they are more commonly known, illegal money lending is a problem across the country. Anyone who operates a money lending business without a licence from the Office of Fair Trading is acting illegally. The England Illegal Money Lending Team are cracking down on unlicensed lenders who...
* Rarely offer paperwork so those who borrow from them are kept in the dark about how much they still owe.
*Can charge extortionate rates of interest- rates of 131,000% APR have been seen.
*Add additional amounts to the debt so the borrowers struggle to repay.
*Take items as security. These items could even include passports and bank cards.
*Resort to extreme methods to reclaim their debts. This could mean threats, intimidation, violence or worse.
Loan sharks don't just operate in big cities; they have been known to target rural communities also. One loan shark who was operating in rural Cumbria made more than £250,000 exploiting and extorting vulnerable people, over a six year period.
The loan shark had 44 victims borrowing varied amounts, from a small loan of £30 to which £10 would be added as interest to a larger loan of £700 to which £400 would be added as interest. Some borrowers reluctantly handed over their bank cards and PIN's so he could withdraw directly from their accounts.
The loan shark was reported to the England Illegal Money Lending Team, who arrested him and prosecuted him through the courts, he was sentenced and then following a financial investigation into the illegal business, ordered to repay all of his available assets in excess of £50,000.
For many victims the impact on their lives can be horrific- Mike* found out the hard way why loan sharks should always be avoided:
Aged 17, Mike was keen to buy his first car. When Peter* offered to lend him £250, Mike agreed and began paying back in instalments until the loan was repaid. It was then that Peter mentioned additional interest, as Mike struggled to repay this Peter offered a further loan.
Over the next two decades Peter trapped Mike in a never ending spiral of debt, forcing him to repay a staggering £90,000 on this loan.
Mike struggled to get by, working two jobs to keep up repayments. Mike's home life suffered and at his lowest point he attempted suicide.
"You wouldn't wish it on anybody" He said "It affected my relationship with my wife. If I wasn't at work I was home arguing, and it affected the kids. They had nothing. It was a living nightmare"
The loan shark physically attacked Mike and threatened his family. After what Mike describes as "years of sheer hell", he spotted an article in the local paper about a loan shark who had been prosecuted by the Illegal Money Lending Team.
He plucked up the courage to call the hotline and from that moment on was fully supported by the team. Peter was prosecuted and received a custodial sentence.
Mike said: "I would tell anyone who is borrowing from a loan shark to be confident to stand up and speak out. Life is absolutely fantastic now- we don't have to worry about money anymore and I'm happier than I've ever been."
Agencies who work at the heart of communities are the eyes and ears in tackling this crime. If you think that a client is in debt to a loan shark, we'd urge you to support them and signpost them to call our confidential hotline. You can also report this criminal activity yourself without breaching confidentiality.
Call the England Illegal Money Lending Team in confidence on 0300 555 2222, Lines are open 24/7.
Text 'loan shark + your message' to 60003
Private message us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject
Look out for people who: owe money to "friends", have a cash loan which keeps growing even with regular payments, have little or no paperwork relating to this loan, have items taken as security or seem scared, frightened or intimated by the person who has given them the loan. It's important to remember that it is the loan shark who has committed an offence, not the borrower and if the loan is illegal, the borrower is under no legal obligation to keep repaying.
As well as investigating and prosecuting offenders the England Illegal Money Lending Team do extensive work in communities to encourage people to make the step change away from using loan sharks. Much of the awareness raising work is funded using proceeds of crime money taken from convicted loan sharks, through the courts.
Recent events, campaigns and initiatives have included Your Choice events, where the local community can choose which community projects will be funded with loan sharks cash, targeted awareness weeks, work in schools, incentives to encourage people to save with the Credit Union and using drama as a way of reaching out to those at risk.
The Team also offer free training sessions tailored to suit frontline staff at various organisations and Community Advocate sessions aimed at the public. These sessions give people a further understanding of the issue in order to support and signpost others.
*Names have been changed.