Investigators at National Trading Standards (NTS) ensured that 108 loan sharks were arrested in England and Wales during the past year, as teams launched 365 operations.
The figures are revealed in the agency’s annual report which shows the activity of Trading Standards’ Illegal Money Lending Teams (IMLTs).
These teams target and prosecute loan sharks who generally lend illegally to vulnerable people deprived of access to credit.
The IMLTs’ work in the past year included:
• Identifying more than 750 suspected illegal money lenders and seized nearly £500,000 in cash and restraining assets worth over £1.2m under the Proceeds of Crime Act;
• Bringing charges in 28 cases from 365 new operations;
• Charging or opening proceedings against 43 individuals.
Along with prosecuting criminals, the IMLTs support victims and witnesses, offering emotional support and advice as well as referring on to credit unions, housing, debt advice and mental health services.
The teams in England and Wales run the Stop Loan Sharks project, which brings together specialist officers who investigate and prosecute loan sharks, with LIAISE officers who support victims and raise awareness of the dangers of borrowing from illegal money lenders.
IMLTs helped provided support to more than 1,650 victims and helped them save a combined total of over £10m. The teams also seized just over £480,000 in cash.
Trading Standards’ report quotes an anonymous victim as saying: “My life has restarted. Before I could have killed myself and tried on a number of occasions. Now I feel I have the strength to deal with life.”
The IMLTs warned that the biggest emerging threat to their work is a combined effect of the introduction of the Universal Credit single benefit, and the cap on pay day loans.
Tony Quigley of NTS Illegal Money Lending Team said: “As people get used to budgeting under the new system and find it harder to access legitimate short-term loans, we expect many to be tempted into the arms of the sharks.”
The NTS points to recent research showing that 2.5 million people will require support to manage their money in the move to Universal Credit – this same group of people are also likely to be financially excluded.
By Marcel LeGouais