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Warning over predatory loan sharks

PUBLISHED: 14:30 28 October 2008 | UPDATED: 12:07 03 July 2010

FAMILIES in Great Yarmouth have been warned not to turn to predatory loans sharks charging excessive amounts of interest if they are facing financial hardship over Christmas.

FAMILIES in Great Yarmouth have been warned not to turn to predatory loans sharks charging excessive amounts of interest if they are facing financial hardship over Christmas.

The alert, especially in the deprived areas of Yarmouth and Lowestoft, follows a year long investigation by trading standards officers, which has revealed some money lenders in the region charging up to 112,000pc APR.

And there are growing fears that more women may be coerced into sleeping with loan sharks to pay off excessive seasonal debts.

The soaring rates of APR and evidence that women are offering their bodies to repay loans are the early conclusions of a trading standards team sent to East Anglia last year to uncover the seedy world of illegal loan sharks.

Yarmouth and Lowestoft were chosen for the investigation by the Birmingham City Council-led illegal money lending unit because their relatively poor populations are ripe pickings for unscrupulous money lenders.

And now the team fears that the present credit crunch will see more families being forced to go to loan sharks to fund their Christmas shopping as they find it increasingly hard to get affordable credit from banks.

In the worse case scenario of 112,000pc APR if £100 was borrowed for four months from the most unscrupulous lender they would expect £352 back.

The incredibly high rates of interest have already seen some desperate single mothers in the region sleeping with loan sharks to write off their debts.

Small businesses that are feeling the pinch are also increasingly turning to illegal money lenders.

Ann Jackson, from Norfolk County Council trading standards, said: “I think it is probably likely that more people will turn to loan sharks over the Christmas period as affordable credit is very hard to find.

“The most vulnerable victims are single mothers and it is not unknown for them to have to pay back their debts in other ways.

“Small businesses are also a high risk of becoming indebted to loan sharks.”

“Our campaign is all about removing people's heavy burden of illegal debt by taking loan sharks off the streets.”

The initial findings of the illegal money lending unit also revealed that people are routinely threatened with violence if they do not make their repayments. One money lender was detained last week in Yarmouth by the unit.

In the last four years the government funded team has shut down £7m worth of loan shark books and seized £270,000.

Yesterday's findings coincide with an announcement that the county council's trading standard officers will launch a Christmas campaign to warn families and businesses to avoid loan sharks.

Suffolk County Council is due to launch a similar campaign later this month.

Anyone who has a problem with a loan shark and illegal debt can call the trading standards illegal money lending unit on 0300 5552222 or e-mail stoploansharks@norfolk.gov.uk.

Tomorrow morning trading standards officers will be outside Yarmouth Library to offer practical advice on dealing with loan sharks.

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