So, who out there knows what a loan shark is? Many of us will have seen characters in films or soaps lending money and threatening people if they can’t keep up with repayments, but does that actually happen in real life?
The answer is sadly yes, and loan sharks are even more menacing in the real world.
There are many who see this pandemic as an opportunity to take advantage of the most vulnerable in our communities, including loan sharks who prey on those who are struggling financially, more now than ever.
That is why it’s important to recognise the warning signs of a loan shark in order to protect yourself and others.
How to spot and avoid loan sharks
A loan shark is someone who lends money illegally without the correct authorisation from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
Opportunistic loan sharks will typically appear friendly in the first instance, offering to help when money is tight, but the consequences of going down this route are dire.
There are many risks attached to borrowing from a loan shark. The lender may refuse to give you detailed information on interest rates or how much you will owe and are likely to offer little to no paperwork. You may be forced to hand over your personal items such as your passport, driving licence and sentimental jewellery as security on the loan. The lender may also threaten you and your family if you fall behind on your repayments, leaving you in a spiral of debt.
The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) have saved thousands of people from the clutches of evil loan sharks. They provide free and confidential emotional and practical support to anyone affected by this crime.
The IMLT will be with you from the moment you report the crime to the sentencing of the loan shark.
You will receive a dedicated LIAISE officer who will provide practical support, make referrals to specialist services and keep you updated on the investigation.
Mum-of-five Becky was left suicidal after borrowing £50 from a loan shark for school uniforms and ended up £35,000 in debt.
Becky and her husband were both unemployed at the time, and with no access to a bank account, credit cards or able to get a loan, she felt she had no option but to accept the cash from the woman posing to be her friend.
Becky said: “I had the £50 in 15 minutes. It seemed like easy money, but I didn’t realise the dangers.
“The first time I was in arrears she added another £150 on top. So you could borrow £50 one week, and owe £100 the next. But if you couldn’t pay it would be £250 in a fortnight, £400 in three weeks.
“The most I ever owed was £1,050. She was taking hundreds a week off me and I had to use food banks.”
Becky said how the loan shark initially posed as a friend but quickly turned nasty – even waiting outside her post office on child benefit day to collect money.
The loan shark would text her kids if she was late with payments and warned they would be coming to visit unless she paid up.
Her case was investigated by the England Illegal Money Lending Team, with Becky and her children moved away from the loan shark and the lender now under investigation.
Becky said: “Without the support of the IMLT, I wouldn’t be here today.”
How to report a loan shark
If you are in a similar situation to Becky, the important thing to remember is that you haven’t done anything wrong and organisations such as Stop Loan Sharks are there to help.
If you, or anyone you know, has been involved with a loan shark, you can call Stop Loan Sharks 24/7 confidential helpline on 0300 555 2222 for advice and support.
Anything you tell the team will be treated in the strictest confidence and will help them to track down and take action against loan sharks.
You can also download the Stop Loan Sharks for free from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
Remember: If in doubt you can always check if a lender is registered with the FCA here.
Credit unions are recommended as a safe, alternative lending and saving facility. Find your nearest Credit Union here.
This is a collaborative post.