RESIDENTS in East Sussex are being warned to steer clear of illegal money lenders, especially in the run up to Christmas.
The loan shark warning comes from East Sussex County Council’s Trading Standards team and the Trading Standards South East illegal money lending team.
Reports show that a number of people turn to illegal lenders to pay for the expense of the festive season.
The message from Trading Standards is clear: do not get involved with these criminal lenders, and speak out if you think you are already involved.
Councillor Bob Tidy, Lead Member for Community Services at the County Council said, “When surveyed 20 per cent of victims of illegal lenders stated the reason for taking out the loan initially was to pay for Christmas.
“Illegal lenders prey on vulnerable people within communities, often those who would struggle to access mainstream credit.
“The sharks often trap people in a spiral of debt with extortionate rates of interest, and then resort to the most extreme methods to demand repayment.”
Typically an illegal lender may:
n Offer little or no paperwork for the loan.
n Refuse to tell the borrower how much they still owe, when they will finish paying or what the interest rate is.
n Increase the debt or add additional amounts.
n Take items ‘as security’. This could include passports, driving licences or bank cards.
n Resort to intimidation, threats and violence to enforce the loan.
The illegal money lending teams nationally have secured almost 80 years worth of prison sentences for illegal money lending and related offences, ivn the past these have included blackmail, threatening behaviour, intimidation, violence and even rape.
The teams have written off £25million worth of illegal debt and seized and confiscated £2.5million in cash. They have also helped out more than 16,000 victims.
Tony Quigley, head of the Trading Standards Illegal Money Lending Team, said, “Illegal lenders are a scourge on our communities, leaving people living in fear and misery.
“They prey on vulnerable people charging often exorbitant rates of interest and resorting to extreme methods to enforce their debts.
“At Christmas in particular we would like to make clear that illegal lenders are not a community service and should never be used, not even as a last resort.
“If you have borrowed from an illegal lender or know someone who has, we would urge you to speak to us in confidence.
“You have not committed any crime if you have borrowed from a loan shark.
“Our hotline is open across the festive season, answered by trained investigators on 0300 555 2222.”
To report a loan shark you can call the confidential hotline, on 0300 5552222, text “loan shark + your message” to 60003, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, log on to the website www.direct.gov.uk/stoploansharks