SLS Week 2023: I thought he was a friend – now I feel violated: Mum targeted by loan shark speaks out

A mum has told how she felt violated after finding out a man she thought was a longstanding family friend was actually a loan shark who made thousands of pounds in profit from his vulnerable victims.

Sarah, aged 37, said: “At the time I thought he was a friend doing me a favour. He had known me all my life and knew my parents – I trusted him completely.

“To see how much he actually made from me over the years was a real kick in the teeth. I feel violated and I’m sickened to think of how much he made from so many people.”

The loan shark has been jailed for his offences following an investigation by the England Illegal Money Lending Team, but Sarah, a single mum-of-two from the East Midlands, said she wanted to share her story to help other people avoid falling victim to unscrupulous lenders in this way.

Sarah, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, said: “He used to be a proper lender. He used to lend money to my parents when I was a child. We never had much, and he used to come to the house and we took small loans off him.

“Now we know he just carried on, taking advantage of us and making a profit from vulnerable people. He was robbing us blind.”

Sarah said she first needed help herself from the lender when she had her own family and began to struggle to make ends meet.

She said: “There was a personal relationship there. He had always known the whole family and knew everything about us. I thought he was still a legitimate lender.

“We had a whirlwind few years and I needed money. He was there, offering a loan and of course I took it. I considered him a family friend and I trusted him. He had known the family for years.

“He knew we never had anything and used that to his advantage.

“Christmas was the worst time – I just wanted to give my kids what I never had and so I had to borrow money at that time.

“I saw him as a way out. But it just kept rolling on year after year and it was never paid off. If I borrowed £300, I knew I was paying back about £500, but I didn’t realise how much it was mounting up.”

Sarah never questioned the lender, still believing he was a family friend who knew her well and had her best interests at heart.

But when investigators from the IMLT contacted her during their inquiries, she was horrified to discover the amount of profit he had been making from her and other borrowers.

Figures showed that Sarah had borrowed in the region of £3,000 and paid back around £5,000 over a period of 10 years. She was one of more than 100 borrowers.

“I trusted him as a friend. He would come to collect the money and we would have a laugh and a joke like friends. I never thought he was taking advantage of my situation,” she said. “So when the investigators showed me in black and white just how much profit he had made from me it made me so angry. It was a real kick in the teeth. I was so shocked.

“I was horrified to see how much I had paid and to think how many other people he was lending to. how much money he was making out of us all. He was living a good life, while we were struggling.

“I did ask myself why I trusted him, but I had no reason not to. It’s almost like I was being groomed.”

Sarah’s message to other borrowers is to make sure anyone offering a cash loan is legitimate, even if they are considered a friend.

“I would say to anyone in this position don’t be sucked in by them,” she said. “They might appear to be friendly but don’t believe what they say. Go to your family to ask for help before borrowing money from another person.

“And always do your homework. If they are legitimately lending, they will be registered. But these loan sharks aren’t. They can just make up their own rules. I am just glad to be free of him now.”

Tony Quigley, head of the IMLT, said: “We are so grateful to people like Sarah who are brave enough to share their stories.

“Too often people are afraid to speak out through fear or shame, but these victims have done nothing wrong, it is the illegal lender who is the criminal here. By sharing her story Sarah is helping other victims realise that they can reach out for help.

“It’s important for people to realise that illegal money lenders aren’t always obvious, they are experts at deception and manipulation, convincing people that they are their friend before taking advantage of them and profiting from their misery.

“Our Stop Loan Sharks Week this year has the theme Behind the Mask, spreading the message that a loan shark can be anyone, a colleague, a fellow parent or even, as in this case, a longstanding family friend.

“Sarah’s advice is spot on – everyone should be wary of those offering loans and should check with the Financial Conduct Authority to see if the lender is legitimate. If they do need to access affordable credit, they should consider a credit union which is a safe and ethical way of borrowing and saving money.

“We hope Sarah and all the other victims can move on without the shadow of this illegal lender blighting their lives.”

The IMLT is a specialist team which investigated and prosecutes loan sharks and supports victims.

Figures show that 56 per cent of the people supported by the organisation in the first half of 2023 said they borrowed from someone they thought was a friend.

They borrowed anything between £30 and £30,000, with 54 per cent saying they needed the money to cover everyday living costs like bills and food.

Over half – 58 per cent – went without food, fuel or making priority payments in order to repay the illegal lender.

The Centre for Social Justice estimates that around 1.08 million people are borrowing from loan sharks in the UK. Since its launch in 2004, 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 thinks they have been targeted by an illegal money lender or has information about illegal lending is urged to contact the IMLT.

People can call the 24/7 confidential hotline on 0300 555 222; text a report to 078600 22116 or send a private message on www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject.

They can also visit the website www.stoploansharks.co.uk where there is a live chat facility from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.