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Tackling online loan sharks and illegal money lending

Sefton Council is backing a national campaign aimed at tackling illegal money lending on the Internet and warning of the dangers of online loan sharks.

Coordinated by the England Illegal Money Lending Team, the campaign comes amid concerns more people are falling prey to unscrupulous lenders online. Statistics show one in five victims met their lender on social media in the first half of 2020*.

Loan sharks are increasingly using social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, to advertise their illegal loans and target potential victims. These criminals will lure people in with seemingly attractive loan offers but will quickly resort to intimidation, threats and violence to enforce repayment and trap borrowers in a spiral of debt.

Cllr Trish Hardy, Sefton Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities and Housing, said: “We know that COVID-19 has had an impact on many people’s circumstances and has had a negative effect on many households’ incomes, which could make them vulnerable to scams such as this, especially in the build up to Christmas.

“What we want to do is remind Sefton residents that seemingly attractive and affordable offers are illegal schemes being cooked up by criminals who do not have their best interests at heart.

“People already struggling financially will be likely to find themselves in a worse position than before if they fall victim to such online offers, sometimes facing threats and intimidation.”

Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “We are aware that loan sharks are becoming more active on social media, particularly in community groups and on local selling pages, which we will not tolerate. I urge people to remain vigilant when online – if you spot a suspicious loan advert on social media, report it. If you need to borrow money, always check the lender is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority and contact your local credit union about ethical financial products and services.”

Cllr Hardy added: “There are ways that the Council can advise and support people who are struggling with their finances. Whether it’s problems paying rent or business owners forced to close because of national and regional coronavirus restrictions. There is a whole host of support available through services like Invest Sefton, Homeless Prevention and Early Help, to name just a few. Further support on a wide range of issues that might affect someone’s finances are outlined on our website.

“The sooner anyone in Sefton facing problems contacts us, the better chance that we can work with them to find practical solutions to their money concerns. And I would urge everyone to be vigilant when online and on social media – don’t get caught out by loan sharks or money lending scams.”

There is a dedicated section on the Council’s website with helpful resources for all here: https://www.sefton.gov.uk/covid-19-in-sefton/covid-19-support/financial-support.aspx

Residents can also get in touch via Sefton Council’s Contact Centre on 0345 140 0845 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm).

The campaign, titled #SharkFreeSurfing, will run across social media platforms from Monday 30th November to Sunday 6th December. It is hoped that the campaign will help encourage not just victims but the wider community to report online illegal money lending activity.

The key advice for people to protect themselves from loan sharks online is:

Know who you’re dealing with. If you’ve only ever met someone online or are unsure of the legitimacy of a lender, take some time to do a bit more research. Check the lender is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). If not, don’t borrow from them – report to the Stop Loan Sharks team.

Beware of loan adverts with no credit checks. Loan sharks have been known to advertise in community groups and on local selling pages. They may seem friendly and accommodating, but their behaviour can quickly change, and you might be harassed or threatened if you get behind with your repayments. Lenders must carry out credit checks to make sure borrowers can afford to pay back their loans. You should never hand over your bank details to strangers, even if they lure you with attractive offers. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Beware of any requests for your details or money. Loan sharks may ask for copies of your passport or pictures of your house, the street and your house number. Never send money or give card details, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust.

Anyone suspecting they have been approached by a loan shark or someone acting inappropriately, can report them anonymously to www.stoploansharks.co.uk or by calling the Stop Loan Sharks Helpline on 0300 555 2222.

Alternatively, they can email the team reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk or access support via live chat on the website, Monday to Friday between 9am-5pm.

Other useful websites:

FCA Financial Services Register: https://register.fca.org.uk/

Find Your Credit Union: www.findyourcreditunion.co.uk

Citizens Advice: www.citizensadvice.org.uk

Step Change: www.stepchange.org

Money Advice Service: www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk

*From research conducted by the England Illegal Money Lending Team as part of their half-year witness statistics report for January-June 2020.