Pictured: Sid the Shark helps prepare shark biscuits for the Winter Warmer hampers
The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) is warning residents in Runcorn about the dangers of loan sharks in the run-up to Christmas.
The IMLT is working with Brookvale Community Centre, Halton Speak Out and Runcorn Local Policing Unit to deliver hampers and gifts to bring some festive cheer to vulnerable residents and keep communities safe from illegal money lending.
The Winter Warmer hampers are filled with food, festive treats, flasks and warm clothing including hats, scarves and gloves.
Shark biscuits made by Brookvale Community Café have been placed in the hampers for residents to bite back at loan sharks.
The IMLT will also be giving stop loan sharks colouring books to around 200 children living in Runcorn in the run-up to Christmas.
Police officers and PCSOs will deliver the books, along with colouring pens that have been bought by Runcorn Police Station, selection boxes that have been donated by the staff at the B&M discount shop in Runcorn and Christmas cards provided by Runcorn-based Merseyside Printing Company.
Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said: “These are difficult times for many households and there’s a lot of pressure to make ends meet.
“People who may have lost their jobs, have outstanding debts, or are struggling to get credit through the usual means can feel like they’ve run out of options and turn to loan sharks.
“I would urge anyone who desperately needs financial help to not turn to a loan shark this Christmas but instead to talk to Citizens Advice or Halton Credit Union about financial support available.
“Help us bite back against loan sharks. Remember, you can report these criminals in the strictest confidence and action will be taken.”
Brookvale Community Centre have been awarded proceeds of crime funding to deliver a community project in the new year, educating young people about the risks of loan sharks and how to manage their money well.
The IMLT is also warning residents about the dangers of online loan sharks as statistics show one in five met their lender on social media in the first half of 2020.
Loan sharks are increasingly using social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, to advertise their illegal loans and target potential victims.
How to protect yourself from loan sharks online:
The Stop Loan Sharks confidential helpline 0300 555 2222 will remain open 24 hours a day throughout the festive period. You can also access confidential support via live chat on weekdays between 9am and 5pm (excluding bank holidays).
The Stop Loan Sharks app is free to download on both iOS and Android devices on the App Store and Google Play Store.