Local WhatsApp groups have been one of the positive aspects of the pandemic, creating community ties and support networks. However, loan sharks are increasingly using these groups to extort money from their victims, according to the report from England. Illegal money loan team (IMLT), an organization that prosecutes illegal moneylenders and supports victims.
Such lenders are also targeting their victims online: IMLT’s 2020 Victim Statistics Report shows that one in 10 victims met the loan shark through social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Facebook, or through websites. dating. Criminals are also creating their own WhatsApp and Facebook groups that appear to be for local communities, but are actually ways to maintain control over their victims, according to Tony Quigley, director of the IMLT. “It looks like a local community group,” he said. “They’ll say ‘come join the group,’ ‘see what’s going on.’ But it has a more sinister side. “
The loan sharks operate by offering victims short-term loans, then arbitrarily increasing their repayments and adding additional costs, often with threats of violence if the money is not repaid.
“The illegal lender uses the group to pressure the individual,” he said. “’I can’t make loans this week, because Doris still owes me money,’ that sort of thing. Besides ‘if you don’t pay me this week, I’ll put a note in the WhatsApp group about how you owe money.’
The economic impact of the pandemic means that the IMLT fears there may be an increase in the number of loan sharks.
“What we found is that wherever there are financial difficulties, illegal lenders will exploit it for their own benefit,” Quigley said.
“But it can take up to two years for people to come and ask for help, when people are most desperate.”
The IMLT said that in one case, a lender allegedly paid a Snapchat influencer to promote their loans.
Another victim was attacked on a dating website, where some loan sharks created profiles offering loans. The woman was tricked into applying for a £ 3,000 loan after revealing she was in financial trouble. The IMLT said the loan shark demanded £ 10,000 and sexual favors to pay off his debt.
Victims have also described being blackmailed on social sites used by the LGBTQ community by loan sharks who threatened to download and share private photos if they did not pay their debts.
Those who present loan sharks to their victims are also vulnerable, Quigley said: “If you introduce someone to the illegal lender and they do not pay, then that debt can be transferred to you.”
Charities that support crime victims say gangs have been using family debt as a way to force children into the county drug trade.
Bali Rodgers, founder of the Kent-based Safer Communities Alliance, said they had recently supported a 17-year-old whose mother used drugs.
“She has mental health problems and has accumulated a debt of £ 3,000 and the son has taken on the responsibility of paying it through drug trafficking at the county borders,” he said. “For gangs, it’s all about power and control, and one of the currencies of control is cash.
“They keep debts on vulnerable people as a way to wire their whole lives. We have helped families in South East London, many of whom had to repay the mounting interest on their children’s alleged drug debts.
“This is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg. The coronavirus pandemic has amplified the situation for women. It’s getting worse, not better. “
Quigley said that the portrayal of loan sharks in soap operas, most recently a EastEnders The story in which Karen Taylor, played by Lorraine Stanley, is threatened by a debt of £ 10,000, helped raise awareness of how they operate.
“We have put illegal moneylenders on the agenda now. It has been in every soap opera, whereas it never has been before. It is a real problem that can affect anyone ”.