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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 August 2007, 08:19 GMT 09:19 UK
Special team targets loan sharks
Wallet with cash
Loans sharks operate in areas of high rented accommodation
A team of undercover investigators is being put together to tackle illegal money lending and loan sharks in Wales.

The Cardiff-based specialist unit will work with trading standards departments across the nation, with Swansea and the valleys areas of particular concern.

Research suggests 165,000 households in the UK owe money to illegal lenders.

The 10-strong unit is being funded by the UK Government, after pilots in Glasgow and Birmingham. It has been welcomed by the Citizens Advice Bureau.

More than 200 loan sharks have been identified and 39 arrests made since the pilot schemes began.

As well as bringing loan sharks to book the unit will also offer victim support and raising awareness of the problem.

These debts are legally unenforceable and people don't have to pay them back but it's fear that the money lenders rely on
Joe Mcshane, CAB

The illegal lenders have been found to target single parents, drug users and people with mental health problems, who then face threats of violence if they fail to pay up.

The pilot projects have shown that tackling the problem has helped reduce other crime.

"Some loan sharks draw their victims into a criminal lifestyle if they are unable to pay their debts, for example receiving stolen goods, shop-lifting, providing false alibis and even prostitution," according to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

"Investigations into illegal money lending have also uncovered offences relating to benefit and mortgage fraud, blackmail, drugs, firearms and counterfeit goods."

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) said it was difficult to assess the scale of the problem in Wales as victims were very reluctant to report problems to the police or trading standards.

Debt adviser Joe Mcshane, who works for the CAB in Cardiff, said: "We know it's a problem and there is no doubt it goes on.

"The advice we normally give is for people to contact the police or trading standards but we can understand why people are reluctant to speak out because of the threat of violence.

"These debts are legally unenforceable and people don't have to pay them back but it's fear that the money lenders rely on.

"From our point of view it's brilliant that this is coming to Wales and hopefully it will address these people that prey on the vulnerable."


SEE ALSO
Glasgow hits back at loan sharks
19 Feb 07 |  Glasgow and West
Call to tackle loan shark menace
20 Jun 06 |  Business
Jail term for 8,000% loan shark
26 Jul 05 |  West Midlands

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