The Gateshead Council supports a national campaign to prevent people from falling victim to loan sharks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ongoing economic uncertainty during the pandemic, which leaves many people laid off, means loan sharks may be trying to take advantage of people in a vulnerable position who feel they are nowhere to be looked.
The Stop Loan Sharks campaign aims to reach the most vulnerable and show them that there is support.
Councilor Malcolm Brain, Cabinet Member for Economics, Gateshead Council, said: “Loan sharks are like parasites that hunt down, target and locate the most vulnerable members of society and offer to help them with what they need now, but for an awfully long time. We are well aware of the devastating impact loan sharks have had on the lives of their victims and we are determined to do all we can at Gateshead to eradicate them.
“We are working closely with the IMLT and our local credit union NEFirst to ensure residents are aware that there is a legal, ethical and affordable alternative to illicit lending, reason to think twice about their next step and a credit union before one Consider loan shark. “
A Northeast mother who ended up paying an estimated £ 35,000 after borrowing £ 50 to buy school uniforms came out to warn others of the dangers of loan shark use.
Mother of five, Becky, whose name was changed to protect her identity, wanted to share her story to encourage other victims to come forward.
In dire financial straits, she borrowed £ 50 from someone she believed was a friend to buy school uniforms for her children, but paid an estimated £ 35,000.
This resulted in her trying to take her own life after falling into debt and receiving terrible threats from an ominous “Big Man”.
Becky and her husband were both unemployed at the time, and with no access to a bank account, credit card, or loan, she felt she had no choice but to accept the money of the woman posing as her friend.
She said, “I had 50 pounds in 15 minutes. It seemed easy money, but I didn’t see the dangers.
“The first time I was behind, she added another 150 pounds. So you could borrow £ 50 one week and owe £ 100 the next £ 400 in three weeks.
“The highest I ever owed was 1,500 pounds. She took hundreds a week and I had to use blackboards.”
The loan shark texted Becky’s children if she was late with payments and warned them they would come to visit unless she paid.
Her case has been investigated by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), with Becky and her children moving away from the loan shark and lender now under investigation.
The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) is a specialized trade standards team that investigates and tracks loan sharks.
Since its inception in 2004, the IMLT has prosecuted more than 400 people for illegally lending money and crimes such as extortion, kidnapping, rape, and assault.
It has also written off £ 83 million in illegal debt and has benefited more than 30,000 victims.
Tony Quigley, UK director of illegal lending, said: “These are difficult times for many households and there is a lot of pressure to make ends meet.
“People who may have lost their jobs, have outstanding debts, or are having trouble getting credit the usual way may feel like they have run out of options and turn to loan sharks.
“I urge anyone in dire need of financial assistance not to contact a loan shark and instead speak to Citizens Advice Gateshead or NEFirst Credit Union about financial assistance and available options.
“If you have been the victim of or know someone who has been the victim of illegal money lending, please call our 24-hour helpline on 0300 555 2222 for advice and assistance.”
Alternatively, you can reach support from Monday to Friday between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. via live chat or fill out an online form at www.stoploansharks.co.uk. Download the Stop Loan Sharks app for free from the App Store or Google Play.