Organisations across Cleveland are joining the national fightback against loan sharks this Christmas and helping victims escape their clutches.
Cleveland’s Office for Police and Crime Commissioner helps fund victim services that tackle illegal money lending in the force area and is part of a national Stop Loan Sharks campaign against the sinister practice that brings misery and heartache.
Christmas is traditionally a time when loan sharks look for new targets. The campaign will use video, print, radio and social media platforms to warn the public about the dangers and also raise awareness amongst victims that they are not alone and help is available, including protection for them and their families.
Loan sharks feed off their victims by first offering a loan of a relatively small amount but with sky high interest repayment terms and violence and intimidation follow if the victim doesn’t comply.
Dave Mead, a manager with the OPCC-funded Cleveland Victim Care and Advice Service, has come across cases locally of windows being smashed, cars vandalised, assaults and even victims being forced into sex work to pay off their debts.
“Victims who borrowed an initial £50 can be forced to pay thousands in return. In reality they never pay off the debt because the interest is so high it just keeps growing. They can then find themselves forced into situations they would otherwise never have contemplated,” said Mr Mead.
“Victims become terrified, afraid to leave their home. The illegal money lender can often live in the local community and so is well placed to keep an eye out for local victims.
“We have had a local case in which the victim felt powerless to stop the money lender actually moving into the family home and using it to deal drugs.
“My message to any victim is that they are not alone, get in touch with the police or, if you prefer, VCAS or other agencies. We can protect you and your family. We appreciate that first contact is always the hardest part; others who have found themselves in your situation have made that first call and now they have their lives back.”
Loan Sharks use a range of tactics to claim more victims, including face to face and online. At first they appear friendly, as if trying to help someone out, offering to lend money to help pay a bill, or for clothes or a Christmas present for their children. They also look for those fighting addiction, offering to help them with debts caused by gambling, drugs or drink. But fake friendship quickly turns to intimidation and ever increasing demands for money.
You can report loan sharks 100% anonymously through the independent charity Crimestoppers, another organisation supported by the OPCC.
Ruth McNee, North East Regional Manager for the charity said: “This is a great campaign to be involved in, illegal money lending causes terrible harm and can be hidden within communities.
“It can be such a difficult issue for people to report to the police as they’re afraid of retribution, violence and even just people within their community knowing they needed the extra money. We remind people that, firstly, this is illegal and, secondly, they can report totally anonymously, Crimestoppers has kept their promise of anonymity for over 32 years, so no one will ever know you contacted us.”
If you have been a victim of illegal money lending or you are concerned about someone you know, contact the 24-hour helpline on 0300 555 2222, visit the website stoploansharks.co.uk, contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or crimestopper-uk.org or the local Victim Care and Advice Service on 0303 040 1099.