The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) have reached a major milestone of helping 30,000 people escape the clutches of loan sharks and have increased their online presence, providing extra advice and support to victims.
The team have launched a new live chat service on their website, which will be available every Tuesday from May 26 between 9am and 5pm at www.stoploansharks.co.uk. An Instagram account has also been created to share news and updates.
Loan sharks may be looking to take advantage of those who have found themselves in a vulnerable position during the current pandemic and feel they have nowhere else to turn for help.
The England IMLT works closely with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), local Trading Standards and the police to eradicate loan sharks around the country.
More than 30,000 victims have been helped and a total of £80m in illegal debt has been written off since the team was first set up in 2004.
Stop Loan Sharks operate a 24/7 helpline (0300 555 2222) offering emotional and practical support for anyone who has been a victim of illegal money lending.
Victims will also be able to talk to trained, expert support staff through live chat by clicking the “help” button on the Stop Loan Sharks website.
Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “We decided to launch live chat as the team have recently passed a major milestone of helping 30,000 victims and we want to make our services even more accessible to those who need them most.
“Live chat will be delivered one day a week during the trial period; however, we continue to provide round-the-clock information, advice and support for anyone affected by illegal money lending on our 24-hour helpline.
“People can still contact us over the phone, through our online form or via email but I hope that the option to use the online live chat facility will encourage more people to have the confidence to get in touch. All reports will be treated in the strictest of confidence and you can remain anonymous.”
Loan sharks operate illegally without the correct authorisation from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
They often use threats and violence against those who fall behind with their payments, causing misery to thousands of families.
New research shows men are more likely to borrow from loan sharks for gambling debts and business costs. The average amount borrowed is £9,500 with victims forced to pay back a staggering £20,000.
Women generally borrow less from illegal money lenders for celebration events and to help family back home.
Victims over the age of 60 are likely to repay nine times the original amount borrowed.
Homeowners are twice as likely to borrow from loan sharks more than once compared to those living in supported and sheltered housing.
Spotting the signs
If you can answer yes to one or more of the questions below you might be borrowing from a loan shark:
• Did they offer you a loan in cash or by bank transfer?
• 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?
You are not in trouble if you have borrowed money or have been paying back a loan from a loan shark – they are the people committing a crime, not you.