LOAN sharks are facing a bite-back from a specialist team set up to crack down on illegal money lenders.
Four areas of Sunderland have been highlighted as potential problem spots which serve as bait for ruthless loan sharks who can charge desperate cash-strapped families interest rates as high as 131,000 per cent.
The Hendon, Sandhill, Red Hill and Washington North wards have all been highlighted as areas statistically likely to be targeted by loan sharks.
Now housing staff, council chiefs and other organisations are joining forces with the national Illegal Money Lending Team to create a new strategy for tackling any illegal lenders who find their way into Sunderland.
Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson was among delegates at a conference to discuss the issue, which served as a springboard for the new shark-busting drive.
He said: “So many people, not only in Sunderland but across the country, are facing increasing economic pressures on their household budget which can force them into looking toward the wrong kind of people for help.
“Illegal money lenders target some of the most vulnerable people within our communities, preying on their difficulties to offer them unlicensed loans which only plunge them into spiralling, uncontrollable, debt.
“We all need to work together to protect them.”
Coun Watson also highlighted the important role credit unions had to play in providing safe lending services to those in need of them.
The Government-funded Illegal Money Lending Team has joined forces with the council’s trading standards officers to investigate and prosecute loan sharks found operating in Sunderland.
Staff from other organisations such as social housing landlord Gentoo are also part of the drive.
Catherine Williams, manager at the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said the event, at the National Glass Centre, aimed to develop an action plan to make sure people in Sunderland are not targeted by loan shark.
Ms Williams said there was not yet any intelligence to suggest Sunderland was a big target for loan sharks, but if there were the new drive was designed to flush them out.
Both she and Coun Watson stressed the importance of the England Illegal Money Lending Team’s hotline to anyone suffering at the hands of a loan shark.
“We’re talking about people who get families stuck in a cycle of debt,” he said. “This is an opportunity for anyone having problems with a loan shark to come forward so we can make sure that they won’t be causing anyone any problems for a very long time.”
•Anyone can call the confidential loan shark 24-hour hotline on 0300 555 2222, and callers can remain anonymous if they wish.
Mobile phone users can also test “loan shark + their message” to 60003, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.direct.gov.uk/stoploansharks.
There is also Facebook at www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject
THERE are an estimated 310,000 households in debt to unlicensed lenders across England. As these lenders operate illegally, they can resort to the worst possible bully tactics, making their victims’ lives a misery.
Loan sharks are known to trap their victims into a spiral of debt. With a lack of paperwork, they keep their victims in the dark about how much they still owe and can charge exorbitant interest rates.
The Illegal Money Lending Team has prosecuted a loan shark who charged 131,000 per cent APR (annual percentage rate).
In some cases the illegal lenders have kept hold of the victim’s bank or post office cards in order to withdraw cash directly from their accounts, leaving them with little or nothing to live on.
The Illegal Money Lending Team is funded by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and has been working up and down the country to stamp out this problem.
Nationally the Stop Loan Sharks Project has secured more than 190 prosecutions leading to more than 117 years’ worth of custodial sentences, plus one indefinite sentence for public protection.
They have written off almost £40million worth of illegal debt and helped more than 16,000 victims.
Tony Quigley, head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “Illegal money lenders can have a hugely detrimental impact on communities.
“They are not providing a service but causing misery and fear. Many will leave their victims with a very poor quality of life. We would urge anyone who is the victim of an illegal money lender to contact us in confidence as we can help. Please call 0300 555 2222.”