Local teams hit the streets of Springwell in south Gateshead to encourage people to turn away from loan sharks and to report a crime if they have been a victim.
The awareness campaign, which has been funded by crime money taken from convicted loan sharks, wants a reduction in the estimated 310,000 households across the country in debt to a loan shark.
These criminals usually appear friendly at first, but quickly trap their borrowers into spiralling debt.
As the debts can’t legally be enforced, many lenders will resort to the most extreme 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% APR.
In some cases loan sharks have been known to take items as security – passports, driving licences or even bank or post office cards with the PIN – in order to withdraw directly from borrowers’ accounts.
Peter Wright, Environmental Health & Trading Standards Manager, Development and Public Protection, Gateshead Council, said: “Loan sharks take advantage of some of the most vulnerable people in society.
“They profit from other people’s hardship and will often enforce repayment by blackmail or threats of violence.
“We fully support the work of the Illegal Money Lending Team and The Gateshead Housing Company in our joint fight to stop loan sharks.
Neil Bouch, Director of Customers and Communities, said: “There are good, reputable organisations to turn to if you are in financial hardship who can offer support and affordable solutions, including our rent advice service and local credit unions.
“I would urge residents who have information on loan sharks operating in their neighbourhood to call 0300 555 2222, so that these illegal lenders can be dealt with and stopped.”
Nationally, the Illegal Money Lending Team have secured more than 300 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to over 200 years’ worth of custodial sentences.
They have also written off £62 million worth of illegal debt and helped nearly 25,000 victims.
To report a loan shark:
- Call the national 24/7 confidential hotline on 0300 555 2222
- Text ‘loan shark’ and your message to 0786 002 2116
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Private message The Illegal Money Lending Team’s Facebook page.
To contact The Gateshead Housing Company’s Rent and Income Team for advice on rent, benefits or arrears call 0191 433 6150 or email email@example.com
The NEFirst Credit Union, which is being supported by a number of local organisations, including The Gateshead Housing Company and Gateshead Council, is offering householders low-cost loans and advice on saving schemes.
The union has a branch in Gateshead town centre, with information available online or by calling 0330 055 3666.