A gang of loan sharks has been jailed at Manchester's Minshull Street Crown Court. The men preyed on young women with children and lent them money at extortionate rates of interest. If they struggled to pay they threatened to injure or kill them.
So how dangerous are loan sharks?
GangThe police targeted Christopher and Mark Weaver and Ian Parsons as part of a crackdown on all the criminal associates of Dale Cregan - who was convicted of shooting police officers, Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone, a year ago.
The Daily Mail reported that the gang targeted women on low incomes - particularly those with small children - and lent them money at extraordinarily high interest rates. They would typically borrow £100, and repay £200 over 10 weeks. There were double-payments and penalties for anyone who missed a payment.
The Manchester Evening News said that when victims couldn't repay the loans, the gang sent a number of mobile phone messages to intimidate them into paying up. Messages included threats to 'end' the women or 'snap' their jaws. They sent a picture of one of the gang in a balaclava with the message 'cumin 4 you'.
The Mirror reported the judge as saying: "Everybody is well aware that in the present difficult financial climate that there is a great deal of shortage of money around. There are a great deal of vulnerable people who live from hand to mouth every week. There are some people have such a low credit rating ... that they have to turn wherever they can." He said that the stiff sentences should send a message to anyone considering exploiting vulnerable people like this.
What can you do?Around 310,000 households are currently in debt to loan sharks. It's easy to see why desperate people are tempted to use the sharks - especially when other lines of credit are used up or refused.
However, using a loan shark is dangerous, illegal, and can cost you everything. These gangs are operating entirely outside the law, so they won't worry about taking illegal steps to recover money from you if you cannot keep up with the astronomical interest rates.
They can also impose arbitrary and unfair fines which dramatically increase the cost - without any rules to abide by. They may threaten you, intimidate you, and make demands at all times of the day and night. In many cases, gangs will harm their victims if they don't pay up.
If you need a short term emergency loan, these are not the people to turn to. Your first step should be a debt advice charity or the Citizen's Advice Bureau, who will explain your legal options and provide advice to help you get out of your predicament without putting yourself in danger.
They can talk to you about sensible alternatives. They can let you know whether there is any help available from the government, and if you really have no alternative to borrowing, they may be able to organise a loan from a reputable credit union.
If you are approached by a gang, or know of one operating in the area, you should report them to email@example.com, by calling 0300 555 2222 or by texting LOAN SHARK and the lender's details to 60003. If you are facing personal threats, you should immediately report them to the police.