The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) has received reports of loan sharks preying on people looking for love online.
Criminals are setting up online dating profiles to lure victims into fake romance relationships before trapping them in a dangerous cycle of debt.
One victim was tricked into taking out a loan after telling her new love interest about her financial problems. She initially borrowed £3,000 but her debt soon spiralled out of control. She contacted the IMLT for help when the loan shark demanded £10,000 and sexual favours to pay off her debt.
In other cases, victims have been blackmailed on social sites used by the LGBTQ+ community by loan sharks threatening to download and share private photographs if they fail to pay their debts.
The IMLT has today (February 8) launched a social media campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of loan sharks on dating sites and apps and help prevent people from becoming victims of illegal money lending.
Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “It’s disgraceful that loan sharks are preying on innocent people looking for love online. These crooks strike up relationships with people to earn their trust and when they have them hooked, they trick them into taking out loans and demand much more in return. This often leads to blackmail and threats of violence if borrowers get behind with repayments.
“This is a devastating crime that impacts victims both financially and emotionally. We urge people to get in touch if they have been affected by illegal money lending, so we can bring perpetrators to justice and provide support to those who need it most.”
Other scams to look out for on these sites include romance scams and the notorious advance-fee scam.
Anyone who believes they might be the victim of a loan shark can contact the Stop Loan Sharks 24-hour confidential helpline on 0300 555 2222, email firstname.lastname@example.org or complete an online report form. Live Chat is available on the website 9am-5pm weekdays.