Our Trading Standards are again warning people not to be tempted by ‘loan sharks’ this Christmas.
And they advise if you do find yourself ensnared to contact the confidential 24-hour Stop Loan Sharks 24/7 Helpline (0300 555 2222) for advice.
Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service’s latest concerns follow the publication of new figures by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT).
They say that nearly one in ten people turned to loan sharks to cover the costs of Christmas last year.
And more than half (52 %) of victims turned to illegal money lenders in order to pay for essentials such as utilities, and fuel in the first half of 2022.
The figures come amid national warnings that the scale of household debt will continue to rise as financial pressures on households leaves many struggling to afford their monthly bills.
Experts have warned that people are particularly vulnerable at Christmas and warn that unscrupulous lenders could try to cash in.
Loan sharks target vulnerable people who are often unable to obtain credit through legitimate means and trap them into a cycle of debt with exorbitant interest rates and threats of violence.
A report published by the Centre for Social Justice estimated that 1.08 million people could already be in debt to an illegal money lender. This is over 700,000 more people than the most recent official estimate.
The impact of illegal money lending is severe and far-reaching, with devastating consequences for the mental health and wellbeing of those affected.
The IMLT is working hard to combat the growth in illegal lending by focusing on prevention, awareness, and enforcement activities.
Since its inception in 2004, the IMLT has written off nearly £90 million worth of illegal debt and helped 30,000 victims reclaim their lives.
A new social media campaign, #SleighNoToLoanSharks, is being launched to alert people about the dangers of using loan sharks and help prevent them from falling into their traps in the run up to Christmas.
Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said:
“At a time when families are under extreme cost pressures with mounting living costs, we are deeply concerned that those who are already struggling to make ends meet could be targeted by these predatory lenders.
“Our campaign aims to break this cycle by helping people understand the risks of loan sharks, what they can do if they feel threatened and where they can turn for help and support.
“The Stop Loan Sharks 24/7 Helpline offers confidential advice and support to anyone affected by illegal money lending. We can give you support on how to deal with this problem and help find a way forward.”
Steve Gardiner, Heart of the South West Trading Standards’ Legal Process Manager said:
“The Illegal Money Lending team do a great job in tackling this wicked trade. It’s really important that people in debt to these unscrupulous lenders are aware there are expert sources of support available.”
Follow these safety tips to protect yourself and loved ones from loan sharks:
- If you’re struggling to make ends meet and need cash fast, the thought of a loan shark might seem tempting, but remember these lenders are not your friends. Debt can quickly spiral out of control – it’s important to think carefully before taking out a loan and consider other options.
- Never send money or give credit card, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust. This information is valuable so make sure you protect it from criminals who can use it to find and stalk you, harass you or threaten those you love.
- If you’re thinking about borrowing money, it’s important to check that your lender is genuine. Loan sharks operate illegally without the correct permission from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Do your research first and check the firm or person you’re dealing with is listed on the Financial Services Register.
- When exploitative loan sharks are preying on hardship, it’s vital for people to know there is an ethical, local, not-for-profit alternative available. Credit unions are a lifeline for many people, with their services helping members to save regularly, borrow responsibly and keep track of their finances. There are other community lenders who are mostly not for profit, and who reinvest any surpluses into serving vulnerable customers, which can be found on https://www.findingfinance.org.uk/
- Getting trapped in a never-ending spiral of debt after borrowing from a loan shark can have devastating consequences, not only on your finances but also on most other aspects of your life, including your mental health, work and relationships with your family and friends. If you’re worried about a friend or family member, or if you need help yourself, Stop Loan Sharks can offer confidential advice and support.
Are you worried about a friend or family member who is being taken advantage of by a loan shark? Contact the Stop Loan Sharks 24/7 Helpline on 0300 555 2222 for support or visit www.stoploansharks.co.uk. Live Chat is available on the website between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.