A skate park in St Helens has been given a striking makeover to ramp up efforts to tackle loan sharks.
The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) worked with UC Crew and Kingsyze Graffiti to transform the park into a canvas of new graffiti art to highlight the dangers of loan sharks on social media.
Loan sharks are turning to social media to hook people into a dangerous cycle of debt and charge extortionate interest rates on loans.
The murals installed in Victoria Park include messages about how to avoid and report loan sharks online.
The project, which has been funded from cash recovered from loan sharks, will see more awareness murals installed in St James Haydock and Mesnes Park in Newton-le-Willows over the coming weeks.
Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said: “Loan sharks are criminals who prey on vulnerable people and are a blight on our communities. They fleece their victims and have been known to use intimidation and violence to get their money.
“This is a fantastic project which will help young people and families understand the dangers of using loan sharks and encourage reporting of illegal money lending in the town.
“I would urge anyone who desperately needs financial help to not turn to a loan shark but instead to talk to Citizens Advice St Helens or a credit union. Anyone affected by loan sharks can access confidential support on our 24-Hour Helpline or Live Chat service.”
Loan sharks may appear friendly at first, but their behaviour can quickly change with some resorting to intimidation and threats if payments are not made.
The England Illegal Money Lending Team works in partnership with St Helens Trading Standards and Merseyside Police to investigate and prosecute loan sharks and support victims of the crime.
Tom Glynn from St Helens based Hip Hop organisation UC Crew, worked with young people from St Helens Primary and Secondary Schools to bring their ideas to life.
He said: “It’s been a pleasure to work with St Helens School pupils to raise awareness of an issue that is hidden in society.
“Young people often learn about loan sharks at school through performance and workshops delivered by agencies but this the first time that young people can educate adults about the issue by using outdoor art murals.”
If you think you may be involved with a loan shark, call Stop Loan Sharks in confidence on 0300 555 2222 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also submit a report online and discuss your situation with a support worker via Live Chat between 9am and 5pm weekdays. Just click the chat box in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.
Citizens Advice St Helens provides free, independent, confidential and impartial advice on a range of issues – from help with benefits and debt, to housing and employment rights. Find out more at www.sthelenscab.org.uk