A loan shark who paid a Snapchat Influencer to promote his illegal money lending operation has been jailed for 16 months.
Rovin Mavunga, aged 24, of Union Street, Doncaster, was sentenced at Sheffield Crown Court on June 30.
Simon Mortimer, prosecuting, said Mavunga offered short-term, high-interest loans to 130 borrowers through Snapchat over a 22-month period in an “organised, sophisticated and profitable illegal business”
Mavunga charged interest rates of almost 100% per cent on loans and pocketed £140,000 in repayments from his debtors. He increased their repayments arbitrarily and added harsh penalty charges with threats of violence for late and missed payments.
The court was told Mavunga would ask for images of the borrower’s identification documents to be sent to him through the social media platform and these would be saved into his phone. On many occasions he also asked for photographs of the borrower’s front door and proof of income such as wage slips or benefit letters.
His victims included a single mother-of-two, who was attacked in the street as a result of an unpaid debt and was forced to move away to escape the threats, and an extremely financially vulnerable man who took out 91 loans.
The woman became aware of Mavunga’s business through his Snapchat adverts and took out a number of small loans before being unable to pay.
She was slapped twice in the face by a man who approached her in the street and asked: “Where’s Lou’s money?”
Mavunga sent a picture of a house and vehicle to another victim in an attempt to intimidate them, believing them to belong to the victim’s mother.
He then introduced the victim to a man called “Arnold”, who used Snapchat to threaten to burn his house down and increase the interest on his £1,000 loan until he owed £7,000.
One threatening text message sent by Mavunga to his victims said: “Sometimes it’s better to avoid some circumstances whilst you can. Because when I start coming for you it will be too late.”
Another read: “You keep thinking it’s a game till I find you.”
One victim pleaded with the loan shark not to involve his family when he sent a message that said: “I will speak to your mum now… And I will come back later… She’s got a nice car.”
Mavunga was arrested in January 2020 when officers from the IMLT, working in partnership with Doncaster Trading Standards and South Yorkshire Police, executed a warrant at his home and seized electronic devices.
He continued to operate illegally following the arrest, setting up a company called 24/7 Loans in February 2020. He was subsequently re-arrested in March 2020 when a further phone was seized from him.
When arrested, Mavunga refused to provide the pin number and password to his phone aware that there was incriminating evidence on the device.
Phone records showed Mavunga made a profit of £25,000 from one group of 35 borrowers and the outstanding loan balance at the time of his first arrest was £100,000.
Sentencing Mavunga for illegal money lending offences, Recorder Megan Rhys condemned his “appalling conduct taking advantage of people who were personally and financially vulnerable”.
The judge added that those borrowing from Mavunga “did not borrow large amounts for extravagant lifestyles but for basic needs” and were “understandably terrified” by the threats made as their debts “escalated beyond all recognition”.
Tony Quigley, Head of the England IMLT, said: “Mavunga ran an organised, sophisticated and profitable illegal money lending business, where he paid a social media influencer to advertise his services online to gain more customers.
“He deliberately preyed on financially vulnerable people and used cruel tactics to enforce the debts.
“This case demonstrates the misery that loan sharks cause and the way in which customers of unregulated lenders are exposed to unscrupulous lending practices, such as threats, high-interest rates and penalty charges.”
“We would like to thank the brave victims that came forward and provided evidence in this case. We hope it offers reassurance to the local community that we will not tolerate this type of violent behaviour and will do everything in our power to keep victims safe and bring perpetrators to justice.
“We urge anyone who has taken out a loan, received no paperwork and who may have been threatened or treated this way to seek specialist support on our 24-hour helpline on 0300 555 2222. Live Chat is also available on our website between 9am and 5pm weekdays at www.stoploansharks.co.uk.”
The IMLT’s 2020 victim statistics report showed that one in ten people affected by illegal lending met the lender via social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook, or through dating websites.
The IMLT has launched a new interactive online film in schools warning of the dangers of loan sharks on social media.
The new film called ‘SHARK’ is being rolled out to all secondary schools, colleges and universities in England as part of a drive to educate young people about the risks associated with borrowing from loan sharks on social media.
The film was funded from cash recovered from loan sharks under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).
The film puts viewers in the shoes of the main character, allowing them to make choices about whether to borrow from a loan shark on Snapchat and decide what happens next in the story.
Watch SHARK and take part in the interactive film at www.perceptiontheatre.com/shark