Northern Ireland

Warnings over loan scamming sites

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Media captionColum Cameron was scammed by an online company

The harsh economic climate continues to impact on people's lives with belt-tightening measures still being applied in most households.

However it would appear it is also creating opportunities for those seeking to make money from people's misery with many being driven into the arms of internet scammers.

Statistics suggest there has been a sharp rise in the number of people being defrauded as they attempt to borrow money online.

One such person is Colum Cameron from Lisburn, County Antrim. He's been finding it tough financially and in a bid to consolidate his debt he went online.

Sting

The company he selected was offering loans with an APR of over 3,000% but that wasn't enough to put Colum off. He applied for a loan, giving his personal details. That is when the problems started.

"This company offered me the sun, sea and everything else and unfortunately I got nothing. I fell straight into their trap," Mr Cameron said.

The morning after his initial contact with the company, he received a telephone call telling him his loan had been approved. However there was a sting in this tale.

"They gave me three options - they told me that I could send them the deeds of the homes of three guarantors or send my own home deeds through or I could pay the first month's instalment up front."

Colum paid the first instalment of £170 using a UKash voucher, which is an international cash payment method. He was told the loan would be through to his account in 10 minutes. However, he was contacted again and asked for a further payment to enable the release of the funds.

After he had borrowed the money to make this payment he was contacted again and asked for one more payment. This time he refused. Colum is still waiting for the loan to be paid into his account.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have told him he is the victim of fraud.

So far this year the Trading Standards service has received more than 60 complaints of this type of scam while dealing with 138 over the last 12 months.

Damien Doherty of the service says the scammers are well organised and are usually based overseas and therefore outside UK jurisdiction.

"Certainly if there is a scammer based on our doorstep we will take enforcement action where necessary.

Image caption More and more people are turning to online lending companies

"When that person is based thousands of miles away in another country, as they often are, we are relying on authorities there to have the same desire to catch these people.

"If you send money off to a scammer in a foreign country you probably won't see it again."

Convincing

The PSNI Organised Crime Branch is aware of a wide range of current scams that target vulnerable people.

Senior police officers point out that when a person finds themselves in financial straits they are less likely to ask the questions they should when establishing the integrity of online loan companies.

Det Con Stephen Crooks said they were aware that a lot of desperate people are being targeted specifically for pay day loans when they have no other options open to them.

"The fraudsters are very good at convincing people they're legitimate and they'll get you to hand over your personal details. That's the social engineering aspect of it."

Once the scammers have your details they can use them to open bank accounts and take loans out in their name.

"It's only when people are contacted by a loan company asking why they haven't made their repayments that the victims realise they've been scammed," Det Con Crooks said.

The PSNI have information aimed at combating this type of crime available for the general public.

It is contained in The Little Book of Scams and is available online or from police stations.