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Volunteers are needed to take part in a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of loan sharks in Southampton.
The England Illegal Money Lending Team, working in partnership with Southampton City Council are launching Bite Back week in August to encourage local people to turn away from loan sharks, and those who have already been a victim of this crime to seek help.
In the week commencing Monday 20th August, representatives from the Team will be out and about in the local area raising awareness.
Posters and banners will be displayed throughout the community and beer mats with the 0300 555 2222 hotline number for reporting
loan sharks will be supplied for pubs, bars and cafes.
Loan sharks operate illegally, usually by befriending their victims before trapping them into a spiral of debt. Few offer paperwork and many will add astronomical extra charges (the highest seen is equivalent to 131,000%APR). Many will resort to extreme methods such as violence, threats and intimidation.
However help is at hand from the England Illegal Money Lending Team, a specialist team who investigate this crime, and they are encouraging victims to speak out.
Volunteers are needed to help out between 10am and 4pm on Tuesday 14th August prior to the launch of the campaign and between 10am and 4pm on Tuesday 21st August.
If you can help please call Catherine Wohlers on 07500809339.
On Wednesday 22nd August between 10am and 12noon representatives from the Team will be at Shirley Shopping precinct, for anyone wishing to have an informal chat about loan sharks and how they can be avoided and reported.
The campaign follows a successful prosecution of a local loan shark, MaryLou Gonzales. MaryLou lent to people in Southampton and was convicted in April. Last week at a hearing at Southampton Crown Court she was ordered to pay back more than £52,000 following a financial investigation by the England Illegal Money Lending Team.
Cllr Andrew Pope, ward councillor for Redbridge, said: "In wards like Redbridge, unaffordable credit is causing many unwanted problems such as poorer health, colder homes, rent arrears and depression.
"Earlier this year, I was delighted that all elected councillors of Southampton City Council were united in opposition to loan sharks and excessive interest rates. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Southampton's residents in finding and prosecuting loan sharks, and offering responsible alternatives."
"We encourage everyone to support the campaign to Move Your Money to responsible mutuals and lenders like the Co-operative Bank, Nationwide, Britannia and credit unions like Solent. It really is very easy to do."
Councillor Jacqui Rayment, Southampton City Council's Cabinet Member for Communities, said: "It's important that we get this message to residents that loan sharks should be avoided despite the difficult economic climate.
"There's a lot of pressure on families today which is making it harder to make ends meet. People who may have lost their jobs, have outstanding debts or are struggling to get credit through the usual means can become desperate and turn to loan sharks.
"It is vital that people struggling with their finances are aware that there are alternatives available. From setting up credit unions to offering advice on getting out of debt, Southampton City Council is working with the England Illegal Money Lending Team to offer practical advice to help people through difficult times."
Tony Quigley Head of the Illegal Money Lending Team said: "Illegal money lenders are a scourge on our communities. These criminals are motivated by greed and have been known to use the worst kinds of bully tactics, to force people to pay back over the odds.
"We would urge anyone who is the victim of an illegal lender to call us in confidence on 0300 555 2222. Calls are answered by a trained investigator 24/7"
Nationally the Stop Loan Shark Project has secured over 212 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to 132 years worth of custodial sentences. They have written off almost £40 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 18,000 victims.
To report a loan shark call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222