A week-long campaign to keep vulnerable families away from the jaws of loan sharks is being held in Peterlee next week.
The ‘bite back’ campaign, which runs from Monday, January 28, until Friday, February 1, involves an anti-loan shark charter event, leaflet drop and staff training.
The project is a result of a partnership between the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), County Durham Housing Group, Durham County Council, Durham Constabulary, East Durham Trust and NE First Credit Union.
On Monday, Durham County Council will join a range of community-based organisations to sign the new zero-tolerance pledge towards loan sharks.
Other work will include a leaflet drop in Peterlee to show residents the work being done and point to the help if needed.
Tony Quigley, head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), said: “Loan sharks may come across as approachable at first and act like they’re providing a community service.
"But they soon use ferocity and intimidation to impose repayments, creating even more stress for victims who may already be in financial difficulties.
“Anyone with information about illegal money lending can call our 24-hour helpline on 0300 555 2222. We will take information anonymously or in the strictest of confidence.”
Loan sharks create a climate of fear and pressure, often resulting in victims being unable to pay their rent, and in some cases facing eviction.
What is a loan shark?
If you can answer 'yes' to one or more of these questions you might be borrowing from a loan shark:
* Did they offer you a cash loan?
* Did they not give you paperwork?
* Did they add huge amounts of interest or APR to your loan?
* Have they threatened you?
* Are you scared of people finding out?
* Have they taken your bank card, benefit card, passport, watch or other valuables from you?
During the campaign, housing staff will be trained on how to spot loan sharks and support tenants caught in their trap.
County Durham Housing Group project director Michael Doyle said: “Loan sharks cause untold misery in some of our communities.
"We’re committed to doing everything possible to tackle their activities and help tenants find legal and affordable alternatives.
“This week of action is a great opportunity to take a really targeted approach in Peterlee, and we’re looking to talk to as many customers as possible during the campaign.”
IMLT mascot Sid the Shark will also visit Seascape Day Nursery in Peterlee on Thursday, January 31, to speak to parents about the risks attached to borrowing from loan sharks.
Durham County Council neighbourhood protection manager Ian Hoult, said: “Raising awareness of the risks of borrowing money from loan sharks and of the safer alternatives available is key to combating their activities.
“When agencies work together to tackle issues within our communities, the impact can be far greater.
"This is a fantastic example of the benefits of partnership work, as well as sending out a powerful message that loan sharks are not welcome in County Durham.”
The IMLT has joined forces with the NE First Credit Union to use proceeds of crime money as an incentive to encourage people in Peterlee town to save, and to raise awareness of the dangers of loan sharks.
The first 50 people to join the credit union, and who save £1 per week for 12 weeks, will qualify for a savings boost of £25.
Residents can open a savings account at the following venues during the campaign:
East Durham Partnership Shop, 28 The Chare, Castle Dene Shopping Centre, open Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4pm.
County Durham Housing Group, 29 Yoden Way, Castle Dene Shopping Centre, open Monday to Friday from 9am to 4pm.
How you can report a loan shark
Call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222.
Text a report to 078600 22116
Visit the website www.stoploansharks.co.uk
Private message us on www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject