Sid the Shark will be hitting the streets of Dudley to help people avoid falling into the clutches of loan sharks.
Sid, the England Illegal Money Lending Team mascot, will join police, council officials and other community organisations for Bite Back Week, running from Monday, September 18, to Friday, September 22, to raise awareness about illegal lenders and the alternatives available.
Tony Quigley, head of the IMLT, said: “If someone is struggling financially and have been refused credit elsewhere, they may feel as though they have no choice other than to turn to an illegal lender.
“These people prey on the vulnerable and convince them that they are the only option available.But the truth is there are options, such as credit unions, where affordable credit is available.
“We are here to offer help and advice to anyone who feels they are in this position or who may have already been targeted by an illegal lender. People can get in touch with us anonymously if they wish and we will do whatever we can to help.”
West Midlands Police, Trading Standards, Midland Heart, the Churches Housing Association of Dudley and District and Dudley Council’s Living Well Feeling Safe team will all be taking part in the week of activities.
On Monday, there will be a leaflet drop around the Russells Hall estate.The team will be out and about on Tuesday then on Thursday (21) afternoon they will be at the Co-op in Overfield Road and on Friday (22) at Russells Hall Primary School chatting with parents and offering advice and information.
Dudley councillor Cathryn Bayton said: ‘‘As a Labour ward councillor covering the Russells Hall Estate, I am delighted to have been able to work with the Illegal Money Lending Team to bring Bite Back Week to the residents.
“As the cost-of-living hits people harder we know that illegal money lenders are capitalising on the difficulties people are already experiencing. This week is aimed at awareness raising of alternative options and letting people know if they have already been targeted by unscrupulous lenders what they can do.’’
Many illegal money lenders are well known within their communities and are often introduced to borrowers through friends or family members. They are unregulated and give loans with no paperwork, charging extortionate interest rates. They often resort to threats, intimidation and even violence if repayments are not made.
Since its launch, the IMLT has supported over 31,000 people and written off over £91 million worth of illegal debt, securing over 410 prosecutions for illegal money lending.
Anyone who has been affected by illegal money lending should call the confidential Stop Loan Sharks 24/7 Helpline on 0300 555 2222 or access support online at www.stoploansharks.co.uk. Live Chat is available on the website from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.