PEOPLE from across Staffordshire are being urged to be on their guard against unscrupulous loan sharks who may try to exploit the coronavirus outbreak and prey on people’s financial worries.
Staffordshire County Council’s Trading Standards service is now working with the England Illegal Money Lending Team to raise awareness of the risks of taking a loan from illegal money lenders.
Loan sharks charge extortionate interest rates and often intimidate, threaten and trap vulnerable victims in a cycle of fear and violence. These criminals may seem friendly at first but borrowing from them can have serious consequences.
Some lenders have been known to take a victim’s passport, driving licence, benefits and bank cards as security for the loan, and many begin to make their borrowers feel threatened or intimidated. Some even become violent towards their victims if they fail to pay, leaving them terrified.
Staffordshire County Council’s Communities Leader Gill Heath said: “Loan-sharking is a really terrible crime that brings so much misery and financial ruin to people’s lives and we’re determined to stamp it out here in Staffordshire.”
“Our Trading Standards team continue to work closely with the Illegal Money Lending Team and the Police to flush out these criminals and protect vulnerable residents. Anyone who has been involved with an illegal money lender should get in touch with the service.”
Since 2004, the England Illegal Money Lending Team has helped more than 29,000 people escape the misery of loan sharks. They have also prosecuted nearly 400 loan sharks and written off more than £75 million worth of illegal debt.
Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “We are launching this awareness drive now as more people may be under increasing financial pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Loan sharks prey on the most vulnerable and will intimidate, manipulate and trap people into a debt spiral. I urge residents to remain vigilant and watch out for illegal money lenders trying to take advantage during these difficult times.
“If you are struggling for financial help then credit unions offer a safe and easy place to turn for advice and support. You can also get help and discuss your options with organisations like Citizens Advice, Step Change and the Money Advice Service.”
Some tips on protecting yourself from loan sharks:
1. Do not accept cash loans, even if the lender seems friendly or helpful as they may ask for unrealistic and unaffordable payments in return.
2. Avoid loan sharks at all costs and consider other options if you need to borrow money. Credit unions offer ethical savings and loans to local communities. Find a credit union near you – www.creditu.co.uk
3. To lend money lawfully you must be authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). You can search the FCA Financial Services register to check if the lender is legal at register.fca.org.uk. If you have already borrowed money from someone who isn’t FCA authorised, you haven’t broken the law, they have.
People can report a loan shark to The Stop Loan Sharks confidential helpline service on 0300 5552222.