A CAMPAIGN is underway in Hartlepool aimed at stopping loan sharks from preying on the financially vulnerable.
As part of National Consumer Week, the spotlight has been turned on the issue of illegal money lending,
The England Illegal Money Lending group has teamed up with Hartlepool Borough Council, Housing Hartlepool, Home Group and a range of other partners in the campaign to encourage people to turn away from loan sharks and to report the crime if they have been a victim.
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An estimated 310,000 households across the country are in debt to a loan shark, and while these lenders usually appear friendly, they quickly trap their borrowers into spiralling debt.
As the debts can’t legally be enforced many lenders will resort to the most extreme and callous methods to enforce repayment including threats, violence and intimidation.
Paperwork is rarely offered so victims are often in the dark as to how much they are actually paying.
Exorbitant extra amounts and interest are added at random. The highest interest seen by an illegal lender was equivalent to 131,000 per cent APR.
In some cases the loan sharks have been known to take items as security including passports, driving licences or even bank or post office cards with the PIN in order to withdraw directly from borrower’s accounts.
Ian Harrison, Principal Trading Standards and Licensing Officer with Hartlepool Borough Council, said: “Loan sharks prey on some of the most vulnerable members of society and we are determined to halt them in their steps.
“There is lots of advice and help available in the town to help people manage their finances, including the town’s own Credit Union, and our message to loan sharks is that you will not be tolerated in Hartlepool.”
Information on how to avoid and report the crime is being displayed on plasma screens in schools and children’s centres. Hartlepool Borough Council and Housing Hartlepool are also helping to raise awareness during the week, by running messages on the telephone lines on their 24/7 Self Serve and Contact Centre.
Julie Donkin, Income Recovery Manager for Housing Hartlepool, added: “We are committed to protecting our customers from any form of illegal money lending. Across the Vela Group we encourage our customers to contact our money advice service if they are having financial difficulties or are concerned how the forthcoming reductions in housing benefit may affect them if they are under occupying their homes.”
Tony Quigley, head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “Illegal money lending is a despicable crime which causes nothing but harm to our communities.
“These lenders may appear to be offering a community service but borrowers are often forced to pay back far and above what they have borrowed and can afford. Many are subjected to threats, violence or other callous enforcement methods.
“We would urge anyone who has been the victim of a loan shark to report them in confidence.”
Nationally, the Illegal Money Lending Teams have secured 218 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to almost 140 years worth of custodial sentences. They have written off almost £40m worth of illegal debt and helped over 19,000 victims.