Campaign aims to tackle loan sharks

Fiona Richardson of the Scottish Illegal Money Leanding Unit and Stephen Hagan, Chair of COSLA's Consumer Protection Task Force with the campaign poster.'Contributed photograph
Fiona Richardson of the Scottish Illegal Money Leanding Unit and Stephen Hagan, Chair of COSLA's Consumer Protection Task Force with the campaign poster.'Contributed photograph

ANGUS Council has given its backing to a new campaign aiming to stamp out the menace of loan sharks operating in communities.

The ‘Stop Loan Sharks’ initiative, which started last week, has been launched by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and endorsed by the Scottish Government, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

It is estimated that there are more than 200 active loan sharks in Scotland, although the actual number is probably much higher. Last year, however, only 34 calls were made by members of the public to report loan shark activities and COSLA, which comprises all Scottish councils, is keen to see that number increase.

Loan sharks charge exorbitant interest rates on loans which they often never allow their victims to fully repay and many pay up to a half of their weekly income, often from benefits, to loans sharks to service their debt. If they cannot repay, they can be subjected to violence or forced to grow or traffic drugs to pay off their debt.

The organisation is encouraging communities to work together with local authorities to pass on information in confidence which can help to end illegal money lenders’ activities.

Councillor Stephen Hagan, chairman of COSLA’s Consumer Protection Task Force, said: “Times are hard for some of the most susceptible members of our communities, money is tight and they are struggling to budget for the basics of life. There are organisations that can help and the last person anyone should turn to for support is a loan shark.

“Illegal money lending is already a significant problem today across many parts of Scotland and with changes being made to welfare benefits, more and more people may turn to these illegal loans rather than local credit unions or other avenues where money advice is available to solve their budget or debt issues.

“Scottish councils, working through the Scottish Illegal Money Lending Unit, are urging members of the public to call in and report loan sharks who are operating in their local areas. These individuals illegally lend millions of pounds a year across Scotland and through intimidation and a culture of fear they can wreck lives and damage entire communities. A loan shark is not your friend, report them in confidence.”

Intelligence gathered by the campaign will be shared across Scotland to disrupt and close down wider money lending networks.

Councillor Mairi Evans, Angus Council’s spokeswoman on environmental and consumer protection, Councillor Mairi Evans said: “ It is important that we all work together to stamp out illegal money lenders, who blight communities and ruin the lives of vulnerable individuals.

“I encourage residents of Angus who know of such activities to report them in confidence.”

To report a loan shark in confidence, please call: 0800 074 0878 or text: 60003. For more information, please visit www.stoploansharks.org.uk