Warning over loan sharks causing new year misery for families

Guest blog written by an expert from Stop Loan Sharks, addressing the ever relevant issue of illegal lenders.

NEW YEAR, NEW STRESS. If you borrowed from a loan shark over the festive period, make it your New Year’s resolution is to seek specialist support to escape their clutches and get your finances back on track.

It was ‘Blue Monday’ on January 17 – also known as the most depressing day of the year.  Cold weather, shorter days, and financial worries caused by the festive period can significantly impact on our mental health.

You might be worried about money and falling behind on repayments if you’ve borrowed from a loan shark. If you are being harassed or threatened by an illegal lender, remember you’re not alone and there is help available.

What is a loan shark?

A loan shark is someone who lends money without authorization from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). They often tend to initially appear friendly and helpful but can then turn to violent and aggressive behavior to force victims to repay the loans with huge interest and extortionate penalties.

It’s not always easy to spot a loan shark as they come in many different guises and will at first appear friendly, just part of the community. It’s when you can’t pay that they will turn on you. They could be a regular from the local pub, a parent in the school playground or a friend of a friend.

These criminals lend money illegally, give no paperwork on the loans and charge huge interest rates, creating an ever-growing amount of debt that is impossible to pay back. Blackmail, threats and violence are used to ensure victims keep paying them.

You will usually find these predators lurking in communities, but they also operate on social media, using dating sites to local community groups to find, threaten and control people in debt.

Some loan sharks have moved their activities online during the pandemic, openly advertising loans on social media and preying on vulnerable users. Remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Never send money or give credit card, online account details or copies of personal documents to people you don’t know or trust.

How to spot an illegal lender

Here are some of the warning signs to watch out for that a lender is acting illegally:

  • Giving you no paperwork or agreement on a loan
  • Refusing to give you information about the loan
  • Keeping items such as your passport and bank card until the debt is paid
  • Taking things from you if you don’t pay on time
  • Adding more interest or charges so the debt never goes down
  • Using intimidation or violence if you don’t pay
  • Start off friendly but quickly turn nasty when money is owed

What to do if you’ve borrowed from a loan shark

You are not in trouble if you have borrowed cash or have been paying back a loan from an illegal money lender, the loan shark is. They are the people committing a crime, not you.

The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) is a national law enforcement unit set up in 2004. They investigate and prosecute illegal money lenders while supporting those who have borrowed money from a loan shark. The team have secured hundreds of prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity and helped thousands of people escape the clutches of illegal lenders.

Credit unions are a safe and legal alternative, find out more about the services on offer locally by going to www.findyourcreditunion.co.uk

It’s easy to check that a lender is authorized before considering a loan by visiting the Financial Services Register online at https://register.fca.org.uk/s/

If you’re struggling because you’ve lost control of your financial situation and your debts are spiraling, get free, expert debt help and advice from Stepchange. The sooner you get in touch and deal with your money worries, the quicker they will be able to provide assistance and help you take back control.

Stop Loan Sharks

Anyone with concerns about loan sharks can contact the Stop Loan Sharks 24-hour confidential helpline on 0300 555 2222 or access support online. Live Chat is available on the website from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

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Holly Hunt

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