Belfast Telegraph

Illegal loan sharks face crackdown by staff at jobcentres

Staff at Jobcentre Plus branches in the UK are being trained to spot illegal money lending as part of a scheme to crack down on loan sharks.

Christmas is a key period when people turn to loan sharks, with some unscrupulous lenders charging interest rates as high as 131,000%.

In a bid to boost powers to tackle the lenders, specialist regional Illegal Money Lending (IML) and Scambuster teams run by Trading Standards will receive £5.2m and £3.2m respectively, the Department for Business Industry and Skills (BIS) announced.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: "Loan sharks are a blight on our communities.

"They prey on vulnerable people and use threats and violence to get what they want.

"That's why we are investing in tackling these illegal parasites and now Jobcentre staff will help people avoid being targeted.

"Debt is one of the five drivers of poverty and, at this time of year, when times are tight, it is more important than ever that we take action to support vulnerable people with their financial problems."

Tony Quigley, head of the Trading Standards illegal money lending team, added: "Once loan sharks have trapped their victims in a spiral of debt they will resort to any methods, including threats and violence, to reclaim cash.

"We've even heard reports of loan sharks waiting for claimants outside Jobcentre Plus offices, so it's important we do all we can to help protect vulnerable people.

"We would urge anyone who is involved with an illegal lender or knows someone who is to contact us in confidence."

People being targeted by loan sharks can call the national hotline on 0300 555 2222 and report them to an investigator.