A Teesside mum who fell into the clutches of an unscrupulous loan shark has been awarded a CTSI Hero Award for sharing her experience to encourage other victims to come forward.
Mum of five, Becky* was nominated for the award by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT).
Becky found herself in financial hardship and borrowed £50 from someone she considered a friend to buy school uniforms for her children but ended up paying an estimated £35,000.
Survivor Becky bravely spoke about her horrific ordeal of becoming entrapped by a loan shark, which led to attempts to take her own life after falling in debt and receiving terrifying threats from an ominous “Big Man.”
Becky and her husband were both unemployed at the time, and with no access to a bank account, credit cards or able to get a loan, she felt she had no option but to accept the cash from the woman posing to be her friend.
Becky said: “I had the £50 in 15 minutes. It seemed like easy money, but I didn’t realise the dangers.
“The first time I was in arrears she added another £150 on top. So, you could borrow £50 one week, and owe £100 the next. But if you couldn’t pay it would be £250 in a fortnight, £400 in three weeks.
“The most I ever owed was £1,500. She was taking hundreds a week off me, and I had to use food banks.”
The loan shark would text her kids if she was late with payments and warned they would be coming to visit unless she paid up.
Her case was investigated by the England Illegal Money Lending Team, with Becky and her children moved away from the loan shark and the lender now under investigation.
Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said: “We would like to congratulate Becky on her well-deserved award. She showed tremendous courage not only in reporting the loan shark but having the strength to tell her story to help others in a similar situation.
“We urge anyone who is suffering at the hands of unscrupulous money lenders, or anyone who has concerns that a friend or loved one may be in danger to contact us. Our officers and a range of support agencies are here to help, you are not alone.”
The IMLT have launched a new smartphone app to make it quicker and easier for people to report loan sharks and access support services.
The Stop Loan Sharks app includes a contact form and phone number to report loan sharks, as well as information to help victims of illegal money lending to get support.
It also offers users advice on the tell-tale signs that someone is a loan shark. These include offering cash loans without any paperwork, charging extortionate interest, use of benefit or bank cards as security, and threatening behaviour or violence to get money.
The IMLT have secured more than 400 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to 586 years’ worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £83 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 30,000 people.
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*Becky’s name has been changed to protect her identity.