Detectives from Merseyside Police’s Economic Crime Team are advising people not to use loan sharks who may try to exploit the coronavirus outbreak and prey on people’s financial worries.
The combination of continued economic uncertainty, job instability and with Christmas only a few weeks away, means loan sharks may look to take advantage of people in a financially-vulnerable position.
Loan sharks are illegal money lenders. They may seem helpful at first but they charge extortionate interest rates and borrowing from them can have serious consequences. As the debts can’t be legally enforced and claimed back through the courts, many illegal money lenders will resort to intimidation and threats to ensure repayment is made. This can often escalate to violence, leaving the victim terrified and unsure where they can turn for help.
Detective Inspector Holly Chance of the Economic Crime Team said: “People throughout our communities are struggling financially due to the pandemic – many have unfortunately lost their jobs and others have been furloughed. This increases pressure to not only meet monthly bills, but also the added expense of Christmas, which is fast approaching.
“I urge people to stop and think before getting drawn into borrowing money from loan sharks. These criminals create fear and exploit vulnerable people with their unscrupulous approach to debt collecting.”
We know that loan sharks often play a part in funding organised crime groups and that’s why we work closely with our partners, including the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), to find them and stop them.
Detective Inspector Chance added: “I recognise that it may be too late for some and they may already be in debt to an illegal money lender. If that’s the case and you are worried about what to do, you can seek advice by either contacting the Illegal Money Lending Team, Economic Crime Team at Merseyside Police or Citizens Advice.
“There is far more help available than victims often realise. Please don’t feel embarrassed or suffer in silence.
“The first step is reporting the loan shark and this can be done confidentially by calling the 24-hour Stop Loan Sharks helpline on 0300 555 2222, text a report to 078600 22116 or complete an online report form at www.stoploansharks.co.uk.”
Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “These are difficult times for many households and there’s a lot of pressure to make ends meet.
“People who may have lost their jobs, have outstanding debts, or are struggling to get credit through the usual means can feel like they’ve run out of options and turn to loan sharks.
“I would urge anyone who desperately needs financial help to not turn to a loan shark but instead to talk to Citizens Advice or a credit union.
“If you’ve been affected by illegal money lending and you need confidential support or information, please call our 24-hour helpline or get in touch on live chat.”
The IMLT has launched a new smartphone app to make it quicker and easier for people to report loan sharks and access support services.
The Stop Loan Sharks app includes a contact form and phone number to report loan sharks, as well as information to help victims of illegal money lending to get support.
It also offers users advice on the tell-tale signs that someone is a loan shark. These include offering cash loans without any paperwork, charging extortionate interest, use of benefit or bank cards as security, and threatening behaviour or violence to get money.
Anyone who believes they might be the victim of a loan shark can contact the Stop Loan Sharks 24-hour confidential helpline on 0300 555 2222, email email@example.com or complete an online report form at www.stoploansharks.co.uk.
Alternatively, you can access free, safe and anonymous support via Stop Loan Sharks Live Chat, available on the website 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Anyone with information about illegal money lending can pass information to the Merseyside Police social media desk @MerPolCC, call 101 or you can call or the independent charity @CrimestoppersUK anonymously, on 0800 555 111.