Sid the Shark paid a surprise visit to pupils at Heath Mount Primary School
A new storybook that aims to warn children about the dangers of loan sharks has been launched at a primary school in Birmingham.
Pupils at Heath Mount Primary School in Balsall Heath were paid a surprise visit by England’s Illegal Money Lending Team mascot Sid the Shark on Monday (January 24).
The children also read a new story called ‘Amsty meets Mr Loan Shark’ which aims to warn them about the pitfalls of unscrupulous lenders online. The story is a sequel to ‘Amsty Gets Online’, published in October 2020.
The story – aimed primarily at children aged 5-11 years – sees the return of Amsty, an old wise computer who lives in the library. Together with old and new friends, Amsty is on a mission to help families learn about the dangers of loan sharks and where to seek help.
The 31-page illustrated storybook, written by Hafsha Dadabhai-Shaikh and Salim Shaikh from the Get Families Talking project, run by Smartlyte, has been funded from proceeds of crime taken from convicted loan sharks. Copies will be available to borrow from all libraries across the city.
The launch of the book comes after reports of predatory lenders using social media sites to openly advertise loans and snare potential victims.
A loan shark is someone who lends money without authorisation from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). They often tend to initially appear friendly and helpful but quickly trap their victims into a vicious cycle of spiralling debts through threats, violence and intimidation.
Loan sharks have been known to use violent tactics including assault, blackmail and even kidnapping to pressure victims into repaying loans with extortionate interest fees.
The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), which is hosted by Birmingham City Council, are leading the fight against loan sharks and supporting victims and communities affected by this crime.
Councillor Jayne Francis, Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Culture at Birmingham City Council said: “Borrowing money from loan sharks can be extremely dangerous, so it is essential that we do all we can to educate people of the dangers and inform them about the support available.
“This new book is a brilliant way to get children engaged in the serious subject of loan sharks and will better prepare them for adulthood. It is also hoped that the young people will carry the message home and encourage parents who may be in difficulties to seek help.
“I would like to reassure residents that the city council is absolutely determined to identify the people responsible for illegally lending money and to stop loan sharking in our communities. We urge people to report loan sharks to the IMLT at the earliest opportunity so they can intervene to stop the illegal lender and provide specialist support to victims.”
Hafsha Dadabhai-Shaikh, from Get Families Talking and co-author of the Amsty storybooks said: “Amsty has proved to be a massive hit with the children and his story is helping to educate families about the perils of loan sharks.
“We are pleased to support the vital work of the IMLT who do so much to bring loan sharks to justice and prevent the damage they do to people’s lives.”
Residents are urged to watch out for the warning signs when dealing with loan sharks:
Anyone with concerns about illegal money lending can contact the Stop Loan Sharks 24 Hour Helpline in confidence on 0300 555 2222 or access support online at www.stoploansharks.co.uk. Live Chat is available on the website between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Amsty Meets Mr Loan Sharks is available to purchase on Amazon here.