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Prevent the loan sharks from circling this Christmas

More people are falling prey to loan sharks online than ever before, according to the team behind a new campaign to tackle illegal money lending.

This week sees the launch of the #SharkFreeSurfing campaign, which is warning of the dangers of loan sharks operating on the internet.

More of us are shopping online this Christmas – especially with the recent lockdown restrictions – and loan sharks are taking advantage of that.

According to figures by England’s Illegal Money Lending Team, one in five victims met their lender on social media in the first half of 2020.

Loan sharks are increasingly using social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to advertise their illegal loans and target potential victims.

These criminals will lure people in with seemingly attractive loan offers but will quickly resort to intimidation, threats and violence to enforce repayment and trap borrowers in a spiral of debt.

All this week, we’ll be focussing on loan sharks and showing how you can stay safe.

On Wednesday, John Smith, one of our Financial Inclusion Officers, will explain how he and colleagues helped bring a suspected Plymouth loan shark to the attention of the authorities.

On Friday, we’ll be featuring the work of the City of Plymouth Credit Union, which offers loans at low rates of interest.

Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “We are aware that loan sharks are becoming more active on social media, particularly in community groups and on local selling pages, which we will not tolerate.

“Loan sharks are using online platforms to advertise their predatory lending activities and target potential victims. People throughout our communities are struggling financially due to the pandemic and the increased pressures to not only meet monthly bills, but also the added expense of Christmas, may make them more at risk of being targeted by illegal money lenders.

“I urge people to remain vigilant when online – if you spot a suspicious loan advert on social media, report it to us. If you need to borrow money, always check the lender is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority and contact your local credit union about ethical financial products and services.”

How to protect yourself from loan sharks online

Know who you're dealing with. If you've only ever met someone online or are unsure of the legitimacy of a lender, research them. Check the lender is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). If not, don’t borrow from them – report them to the Stop Loan Sharks team.

Beware of loan adverts with no credit checks. Loan sharks have been known to advertise in community groups and on local selling pages. They may seem friendly, but their behaviour can quickly change, and you might be harassed or threatened if you get behind with your repayments.

Lenders must carry out credit checks to make sure borrowers can afford to pay back their loans. You should never hand over your bank details to strangers, even if they lure you with attractive offers. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Beware of any requests for your details or money. Loan sharks may ask for copies of your passport or pictures of your house, the street and your house number. Never send money or give card details, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust.

If you suspect someone may be a loan shark or they are acting inappropriately, you can report them anonymously to or by calling the Stop Loan Sharks Helpline on 0300 555 2222.