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Source: City of Sunderland

It has been estimated that £12m leaks out of the city’s economy every year via loan sharks, and many of these illegal lenders are using social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to find their victims.

Now, a campaign launched by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) called #SharkFreeSurfing aims to tackle illegal money lending.

The campaign comes as statistics show one in five victims met their lender on social media in the first half of 2020.

It is hoped that the #SharkFreeSurfing campaign will help encourage not just victims but the wider community to report online illegal money lending activity.  

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.

“Loan sharks are using online platforms to advertise their predatory lending activities and target potential victims. People throughout our communities are struggling financially due to the pandemic and the increased pressures to not only meet monthly bills but also the added expense of Christmas may make them more at risk of being targeted by illegal money lenders.

“I urge people to remain vigilant when online – if you spot a suspicious loan advert on social media, report it to us. 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.”

Sunderland City Council provides support for those who feel they need advice or help with their finances and has partnered with Moneywise Credit Union to offer Sunderland residents a range of loans and interest rates ranging from personal loans, pay day loans and saving plans.

In partnership with Moneywise, the council will also soon be rolling out a city-wide initiative for children and schools to raise awareness of loan sharks.

Councillor Paul Stewart, Deputy Leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “Many people have been affected financially by the Covid-19 pandemic, and we know that Christmas can add an extra strain but it’s important to remember that borrowing money from loan sharks can make financial problems much worse.

“These loan sharks are criminals who lure people in with seemingly attractive loan offers but will quickly resort to intimidation, threats and even violence to enforce repayment, often trapping borrowers in debt.

“I would encourage anyone who is struggling with their finances to get in touch and see what support we can offer them.”

If you are considering speaking to someone about your financial situation, find more information on the help Sunderland City Council provides at www.sunderland.gov.uk/article/17326/Financial-support-and-money-advice

Sign up to Moneywise Credit Union at www.moneywise.org.uk

If you suspect someone may be a loan shark or they are acting inappropriately, you can report them anonymously by calling the Stop Loan Sharks Helpline on 0300 555 2222. Alternatively, you can email the Illegal Money Lending Team on reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk.

MIL OSI United Kingdom