Loan shark crackdown over interest rates concern

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Media captionStephen Grey, manager of Wimlu, and Jan Channing, of Citizens Advice in Caerphilly and Blaenau Gwent, on the difficulties in people coming forward

A new crackdown against loan sharks in Wales is being launched over concerns victims are being charged exorbitant interest rates.

The Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit (Wimlu) is urging people to report loan sharks anonymously.

It said the financial climate meant there was no longer a "typical loan shark victim", with employed people targeted as well as the vulnerable.

Victims often faced extortionate interest rates and threats of violence.

Wimlu, which is funded by the UK government, said many loan sharks were not the "hard men" often portrayed but rather people who befriend their victims, acting as if they were doing them a favour.

However, they could then turn nasty when people did not repay their debts, the organisation claimed.

Wimlu, which works with Wales' trading standards teams, hopes its campaign will persuade more people to report problems with loan sharks so that it can crack down on the problem.

One victim, who wanted to remain anonymous, told how she and her partner had faced intimidation and threats of violence against their children from a loan shark.

She said her partner and his ex-partner had initially borrowed money from a family friend to pay for Christmas for their five children and items they needed such as a new washing machine.

But they were told they would have to pay back double the amount of money they had borrowed - with a final repayment of £2,000 being demanded to pay back a £1,000 loan.

When her partner could not pay off the debt the loan shark started intimidating the family.

'Threatening my children'

"They glued the locks to his house, tried to take the keys off my partner for his car saying he'd take his car as payment instead," said the woman from the south Wales valleys.

"[They were] threatening his ex-partner and the children, they threatened me and my children, they were going to put my windows through.

"And they specifically said my kids' windows, bedroom windows, which did annoy me as I don't bring kids into this."

She added: "We've been told there's people out there that's going get us... they're going to bide their time and they're going to get us on their behalf."

The loan shark who targeted the family was later arrested and charged after the woman contacted Wimlu for help.

Stephen Grey, manager of Wimlu told BBC Radio Wales they were involved in up to 40 investigations a year but relied on people noticing something unusual with those around them who had fallen prey to loan sharks.

"The calls we receive are typically not from the victims themselves but partners, members of the family, neighbours," he said.

"Without intelligence we can do very little. Does your family member have a cash loan that seems to grow, even with regular payments? Have they got little or no paperwork relating to the loan? These are the sort of questions they should ask themselves."

The unit acts on behalf of Wales' 22 councils, with a mix of trading standards officers and former police detectives carrying out its investigations

'Friendly and welcoming'

Jan Channing, operations manager for Citizens Advice in Caerphilly and Blaenau Gwent, said loan sharks were often not "bully boys" and many were actually women who lived locally.

"There's nothing initially threatening about them," she said.

"They could be friendly, they could be welcoming, almost as if they're doing you a favour."

She said she believed there were people who were too scared to report loan sharks and added that the situation was likely to continue with changes to the welfare system.

"People are desperate and can't access main stream credit," she added.

The Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit 24 hour hotline is 0300 123 3311.

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