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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Call to tackle loan shark menace
A wallet
Consumers have been charged extortionate interest rates
Pilot projects designed to track down and stop illegal loan sharks should be rolled out across the UK, according to the Trading Standards Institute (TSI).

The projects, funded by the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), have been hailed a success by the TSI.

One of the two teams, covering much of central England, has investigated 72 alleged loan sharks, jailing two.

Another, covering all of Scotland, has opened 94 cases, putting forward 16 people for prosecution.

The English team has deployed Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos) in four cases, while the Scottish operation has focused on using the Proceeds of Crime Act to freeze alleged loan sharks' property.

The way to remedy this is to set up more credit unions to help the poor
Sue, London

The TSI said illegal money-lenders targeted vulnerable people, such as single mothers, people with drug addictions or those with mental health problems.

They then use threats or violence to force their victims to pay up at extortionate rates of interest.

"We are now encouraging the DTI to examine the impact that this initiative has had with a view to extending the projects to other parts of the country, so that more communities can fight back against these callous, often vicious, individuals who take advantage of people in desperate straits," said Ron Gainsford, chief executive of TSI.

The DTI has invested 2m in the pilot projects.

One loan shark jailed because of a project was Kim Cornfield.

Covert investigators found he was preying on single mothers in Redditch, Worcestershire, using threats of violence, sexual intimidation and aggression to get his money back.

In one instance, he physically attacked a woman who was eight months pregnant over her small debt.

Cornfield was jailed for two years in February 2006 for unlicensed money lending and nine counts of blackmail. His wife, Lynne, received a 12-month community rehabilitation order for illegal money lending.

Jacqui Kennedy, senior assistant director of Birmingham City Council's regulatory services, told the BBC that an anonymous hotline had given victims the courage to call and make complaints.

Hear why loan sharks are such a big problem

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