Hard pressed families who are struggling with the cost of Christmas will be preyed upon by loan sharks and illegal money lenders, the council has warned today.
Brent Council, which has teamed up with the national Illegal Money Lending Team to provide a service where residents who have borrowed from loan sharks can turn to for help, has warned of the dangers of borrowing in this way.
Cllr Roxanne Mashari, Brent Council's Cabinet Member responsible for financial inclusion, said:
"Loan sharks target those who struggle to get credit through legitimate sources, first befriending the borrower to get the loan arranged, before later becoming intimidating, threatening or violent.
"The loan sharks rarely offer paperwork, keeping their borrowers in the dark, refusing to say how much they owe, how much longer they have to pay and how much interest they are paying on top, often charging extortionate amounts."
All money lenders require proper permission from the Financial Conduct Authority to lend money and those who do not are acting illegally.
The Illegal Money Lending Team will work with Brent Council's Trading Standards Team to investigate and prosecute loan sharks for any illegal lending, which in the past has included instances of blackmail, threatening behaviour, violence, kidnap, drugs offences and rape.
Cllr Mashari added:
"We all know that Christmas is a time when families can feel that extra pressure to spend what they can't afford, so offers by loan sharks knocking at your door can seem a tempting way out.
"However, the interest rates they charge and the way that they conduct themselves can leave you deeper in debt that expected, so these criminals need to be avoided at all costs. Instead, look at how a credit union can help tie you over into the New Year.
"I would also urge anyone who has had any contact with a loan shark to contact the Illegal Money Lending Team in confidence and help put a stop to this practice in Brent and protect the least well-off in our community from this criminal activity."
To report a loan shark, call the confidential hotline on 0300 555 2222 which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.