Stop Loan Sharks Week 2024: Landmark cases mark 20th anniversary year for national team

Two landmark cases have heralded the start of this year’s Stop Loan Sharks Week with the England Illegal Money lending Team seeing one of the biggest ever confiscation orders and one of the longest jail terms handed to illegal money lenders.

In April two loan sharks from London were ordered to hand over £1.2 million following an IMLT Proceeds of Crime hearing. It was the largest amount confiscated in an IMLT case for 14 years.

And this month, violent loan shark Richard Dawson, who terrorised victims in Barnsley, forcing one to travel to cashpoints in the boot of his car, was jailed for seven years.

The cases come as the IMLT, known in communities as Stop Loan Sharks, urged borrowers to come forward with information about loan sharks, telling them they should feel ‘no blame and no shame’.

No Blame, No Shame is the official theme for this year’s Stop Loan Sharks Week, which begins on Monday, May 13.

Tony Quigley, head of the IMLT, said: “The borrowers who come forward in all our cases show incredible bravery – to speak up against someone who is bullying and intimidating you is a courageous thing to do.

“These cases show that we can and will take effective and swift action to tackle these criminals, getting them off our streets and making them pay for what they have put people through.

“Borrowers should never feel ashamed that they have borrowed – they have done nothing wrong – the lender is the criminal.”

The IMLT is marking its 20th anniversary this year. Its most recent statistics show that borrowers can take over two years since first borrowing to report an illegal lender. That can be because they are gripped by debt, fear and shame and in some cases driven to the brink of despair and even suicide.

Of the people supported by the team in 2023, 31% had thought about or attempted suicide and 81% were in a state of extreme stress, worry or depression because of their involvement with the loan shark.

Around 31% had been threatened with physical harm or assaulted before reporting the lender to the IMLT and in 9% of cases, sexual services had been suggested or forced as payment in kind.

Those that do get caught in the trap of an illegal lender often think there is no way out – 17% of those helped last year had borrowed more than 10 times and 14% did not remember exactly how many times they’d borrowed.

The 2023 statistics also show eight per cent of borrowers said they met their lender online – which is the highest number recorded. This may indicate that the loan shark profile is changing and offers another means of control as exposure on social media is a very real threat.

Victims have told the IMLT how they felt ashamed and somehow to blame while in debt to an illegal lender:

  • Sarah, a single mum who borrowed from someone she though was a longstanding family friend, said: “I considered him a family friend and I trusted him. To see how much he actually made from me over the years was a real kick in the teeth. I didn’t want to admit that I had fallen for his lies, but I’m glad I did in the end.”
  • Anthony, a dad of four who borrowed over £10,000 from someone he thought was a legitimate lender and ended up paying back around £17,000, said he felt foolish and embarrassed. “It angers me because I have been made to feel like a fool. I have funded someone else’s life and to find out afterwards there were so many other people he was making money off – it just makes me so angry. It’s a vile thing to have hanging over your head – it’s like being stuck in a never-ending hellhole of recycling money.”
  • Jane, a mum-of-three, who borrowed from someone she knew at work, said: “When I changed my phone number the lender contacted family members to get them to make me repay. The loan shark said they’d kill me. I went to a bridge and was going to jump off because of the threats the lender had made – the thought of my children stopped me doing it.”
  • Sunny, a delivery driver, who met a lender online, said: “It came down to the kids eating or me. We were in so much debt because of the loan shark. My shame stopped me from accessing help and disclosing to anyone what was happening until I was contacted by the Stop Loan Sharks team. On paper my income looks great but in reality we were constantly playing catch up due to paying her.”
  • Paula, a young woman working in the care sector, said: “They contacted my parents telling them I owe money. They came to my workplace to intimidate me. The loan shark told me to become a prostitute to pay off my debt. I’ve been sexually assaulted and threatened that he had someone who would “deal with me”.”

Tony said: “These lenders chip away at people’s confidence and self-esteem until they have complete control and leave them terrified, both of repercussions and being found out. They might threaten to tell their family, friends and work colleagues and that fear of being found out may give the lender more of a hold than the risk of physical violence.

“We understand how hard it is for people to speak up, but there is a way out. We are here to help, not to judge, and we do have the power to make sure these lenders face the consequences of their actions.”

The IMLT is the only body in England dedicated to investigating and prosecuting illegal lenders and supporting borrowers. Since it launched in 2004, it has prosecuted over 420 illegal lenders, securing jail terms of more than 600 years. The team has supported over 31,500 people and written off over £91.2 million worth of illegal debt.

Anyone who has been affected by illegal money lending should call the Stop Loan Sharks confidential 24/7 Helpline on 0300 555 2222 or access support online at www.stoploansharks.co.uk. Live Chat is available on the website from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.