A new campaign has been launched to encourage people to start the conversation about the dangers of loan sharks and highlight the support that’s available to those who have been affected by illegal money lending.

A report published by the Centre for Social Justice estimated that 1.08 million people could be borrowing from an illegal money lender – more commonly known as a loan shark. This figure has more than trebled since 2010.

Loan sharks are criminals who lend money at extortionate rates of interest, threatening significant harm to borrowers if they do not pay.

These ruthless lenders use coercive control and psychological threats to keep victims trapped in an endless cycle of debt for years, often with devastating consequences.

This week, the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) is running its national Stop Loan Sharks Week campaign to highlight the help available to those who have been targeted by loan sharks, as well as increase awareness of this hidden crime in communities.

This year’s campaign will focus on reaching vulnerable people who may not realise they are being exploited by loan sharks, as well as raising awareness of the support available to those who have already come into contact with an illegal lender.

Emma Gibbons, our Vulnerability Lead, said:
“Loan sharks can be very dangerous and sometimes they use threats and violence against those who fall behind with their payments. 

“If you’re considering using a loan shark, think again. They often make it look like they’re helping you out but in reality, it’s a trap.

“If you are struggling with debt, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone and it’s never too late to seek debt advice.”

What is the #LetsTalkLoanSharks campaign?

The #LetsTalkLoanSharks campaign aims to remove the shame and banish the stigma around illegal money lending by encouraging conversations among families, friends, neighbours, customers, colleagues and communities.

It also encourages frontline professionals to have a loan shark conversation with every client they see during the week, whether or not each individual is showing signs of borrowing from a loan shark.

People who have borrowed from loan sharks often keep this information to themselves, but by asking a few simple questions, you could help someone feel supported enough to disclose their situation so they can get the help they need.

Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said:
“Loan sharks are mercilessly preying on the most vulnerable and using deceptive tactics to trap families in a cycle of debt and fear.

“This campaign is dedicated to stopping the scourge of illegal money lending, which is responsible for so much harm and despair. Breaking the silence around this issue is essential to protecting our communities and helping those affected.

“We are working with our partners across England to bring awareness and information to all those affected by illegal lending – and encouraging frontline workers to spot the signs and ‘ask the question’ when dealing with vulnerable clients who may be at risk of being targeted by loan sharks.

“We want to open up the conversation about illegal lending and loan sharks, helping people realise that they are not alone and empowering them to talk about their situation openly and honestly, without embarrassment or stigma.”

New figures released by the IMLT show that over one-third (35%) of victims had sought debt advice but were reluctant to report the loan shark to their support worker due to fear of reprisals from the lender.

Are you worried a loved one might be involved with a loan shark?

If you think a person might be involved with a loan shark, there are some warning signs to look out for.

A loan without paperwork and an extortionate rate of repayment are usually obvious signs. Watch out for sudden changes in their behaviour, or evidence that they are handing over personal items such as their bank card, passport or jewellery to someone they owe money to.

If someone is struggling to deal with loan sharks and debt, they may feel isolated, vulnerable and ashamed.

While it might feel awkward to talk about these issues, asking the right questions and encouraging the person to open up about their experience can help them take the first step in seeking help. It will also make them feel at ease and less alone.

It’s important to simply provide a space for that person to share their thoughts or talk through their experiences.

This will make them feel safe and understood. As a friend, family member, colleague or support worker, you can make this happen by being there to listen without judgement.

If you’re having trouble getting someone to open up about their loan shark problem, here are some ways to start the conversation: Have you ever been pressured into taking out a loan with high interest rates?, Are you paying back more than what you borrowed?, Has anyone acted aggressively towards you when you didn’t pay back a loan? If so, did they use any type of physical force or threats?.

If you’ve been affected by loan sharks or have concerns about someone you know, confidential advice and support is available from the Illegal Money Lending Team.

Call the Stop Loan Sharks 24-Hour Helpline on 0300 555 2222. Live Chat is available on the website between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

If you’re ready to get control over your finances again and take the first step on the path to becoming debt-free, then get immediate help online now or give us a call today on 0800 316 1833