Detectives are urging people to avoid illegal money lenders in the run up to Christmas and beyond.
Illegal money lenders, also known as loan sharks, may initially seem helpful but charge extortionate interest rates and borrowing from these individuals can have serious consequences.
As the debts cannot be legally enforced and claimed back through the courts, many illegal money lenders will use intimidation, threats and violence to ensure repayment is made leaving the victim terrified and unsure where they can turn to for help.
Illegal money lending can take various forms such as from small-scale lenders to organised crime groups who are known to target financially vulnerable people.
In recent research carried out by the Centre for Social Justice, data of known victims showed that while anyone can potentially be exploited by an illegal money lender, most victims face a range of interwoven disadvantages.
These include low incomes and financial resilience, reliance on benefits, living in social or private rented housing, poor health and existing debt to authorised creditors while other victims are homeowners, often with middling incomes, believed to typically face business expenses or cash flow problems.
Detective Inspector Rob Brown of the Economic Crime Team said: “Loan sharks are unscrupulous individuals who prey on financial vulnerabilities. They have been known to target people at food banks and are increasingly operating online to entice and exploit their victims.
“Some illegal money lenders help to facilitate the finances of organised crime groups and we work closely with our partners, including the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), to find them and stop them.
“As well as illegal money lending, organised crime groups are often also involved in money laundering and counterfeit goods so I urge anyone who is thinking of buying fake goods in the run up to Christmas to think twice as they could unwittingly be financing serious and organised crime.”
DI Brown added: “It is vital that anyone who is approached by someone offering to lend them money that they do not accept their offer of financial help – no matter how small the amount it will soon escalate into something far, far worse.
“Regardless of how attractive a proposal may seem, below the surface the lender’s intentions will be murky and victims will find themselves in a trap of spiralling debt from which they will struggle to escape.
“When the victim can’t pay they will be made to make payments in kind which can be anything from delivering drugs, referring new clients, sexual favours or anything else the loan shark wants.
“These loans can last for years – long after the original loan has been repaid with extortionate interest rates, late fees and other costs adding to the debt.”
While Merseyside Police is keen to deter anyone from accepting a loan from an illegal money lender there is lots of help available to anyone who has already fallen into debt with a loan shark.
DI Brown added: “If you are already in debt to an illegal money lender and you are worried about what to do, or you are worried about someone else who is a victim, please don’t feel embarrassed or suffer in silence – there is a lot of help available.
“You can seek advice by either contacting the Illegal Money Lending Team, Economic Crime Team at Merseyside Police or Citizens Advice.
“The first step is reporting the loan shark and this can be done anonymously by calling the 24-hour Stop Loan Sharks helpline on 0300 555 2222, text a report to 07860 022116 or complete an online report form at www.stoploansharks.co.uk.
“While I understand that for those with poor credit rating or difficult circumstances a loan shark may seem like your only option to obtain extra money, I urge anyone who desperately needs financial help to not turn to a loan shark but talk to Citizens Advice or a credit union instead.”
Stop Loan Sharks investigates and prosecutes illegal money lenders and provides support for borrowers.
Their 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, or is worried about someone else, can contact the Stop Loan Sharks 24-hour confidential helpline on 0300 555 2222, email firstname.lastname@example.org 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 the independent charity @CrimestoppersUK anonymously, on 0800 555 111.