Human toll of loan sharks laid bare

AS Suffolk stepped up its war on loan sharks today, The Evening Star can reveal the human toll of illegal money lending in Ipswich for the first time. GRANT SHERLOCK reports.

AS Suffolk stepped up its war on loan sharks today, The Evening Star can reveal the human toll of illegal money lending in Ipswich for the first time. GRANT SHERLOCK reports.

LOAN sharks in Ipswich were today warned that the net is closing on them as investigators gather evidence on their illegal practices.

Experts drafted in from Birmingham are set to focus some of their attention on the unscrupulous tactics of illegal money lenders in the town after Suffolk County Council successfully prosecuted a major loan shark.

As it announced it was intensifying its crackdown on the shady world of dodgy lending, the council said lenders operating in Ipswich would be scrutinised closely.

The warning came as the council unveiled its latest weapon in fighting loan sharks.

A nationally recognised team from Birmingham City Council has been brought to Suffolk as part of a £302,000 government initiative to target illegal money lending.

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Working with county council officers from the county, the Birmingham team will focus its efforts on Lowestoft, Yarmouth and Peterborough but, following the prosecution of loan shark Marissa Ico, Ipswich will also be under the microscope.

Reg Ruffles, assistant county trading standards officer, said: “The Birmingham team are not just going to concentrate on Lowestoft, Yarmouth and Peterborough. If we have a problem in Ipswich they will tackle that as well.

“What we know is Ico was not the only loan shark in Ipswich. The resource of this team will be available wherever necessary.

“They will do whatever is necessary. They will put whatever resources needed in, and for however long, to catch these people.”

The Birmingham team has attracted national attention after helping to wipe out more than £2million of illegal debt owed by some of Britain's poorest people since it was created in 2004. It has also seized guns, drugs and recovered counterfeit items worth more than £100,000.

Loan sharks are believed to control “patches” in Ipswich where they prey on the people with the least money and the greatest need.

Referring to the case of former Ipswich Hospital employee Ico, from Orwell Road, who illegally lent money at rates of up to 155per cent before aggressively chasing her debtors, Steve Greenfield, county trading standards officer for Suffolk, said: "We have already seen success in Suffolk cracking down on vile individuals who prey on those in need, and who blight our communities.

“However, loan sharks can never redress the emotional damage they do to people's lives. This is why we need to stop them from operating and need agencies and people to report them to us in confidence.”

Ico, a mother-of-two, was last month ordered to pay back £15,000 and complete 100 hours of unpaid community work.

People can report loan sharks by sending an email to or by calling 01473 401122.

Have you been the victim of a loan shark? What do you think be done to stamp out the practice? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail

These are the accounts of victims of Marissa Ico who were among the staff she targeted while working at Ipswich Hospital:

Victim A:

In both July and August 2006 close to pay day, I received text messages and calls to my mobile number. They were mainly messages asking me to pay outstanding balance on my loan.

There were also some rude texts and more demanding ones and also threats that if I did not pay by certain days then there would be interest. I mainly received text messages but when I did receive a telephone call it was the same content as in the texts. The calls and texts were made by a person I know as Marissa Ico.

I felt intimidated and threatened by these text messages and calls, especially as I was in financial difficulties.

This situation has affected my family as my wife has gone back to the Philippines suffering from anxiety and is on medication for this.

Because of the trauma of the financial situation she has gone back to the Philippines with my son. I haven't seen them both for almost five months.

It is really difficult to be apart from my family but my wife will not come back until this situation is all over. The harassment has also affected my son as every time he hears a loud voice he cries and gets very distressed.

Victim B:

I arrived in England from the Philippines. Soon after arriving my husband told me that he had borrowed some money and was in debt.

The following month, September 2005, I received several phone calls at my house. There were approximately four to five calls a day over three. The phone calls were made by a woman who would introduce herself as Marissa.

Every month the phone calls would continue as before. The phone calls were from Marissa Ico and her husband.

Since approximately June 2006 I do not pick up the telephone anymore.

My husband has told me that he has offered our land in the Philippines in exchange for the cancellation of the debt.

(One day) there was a very loud knock on the door, as if there was an emergency. I saw a figure of a female trying to peer through the glass with her face pressed against the glass. I opened the door. She came straight in barging past me and started screaming at me in Filipino.

I have become very depressed I don't want to go out or see anyone, or even for example go and see a movie or go and buy groceries.

I've started smoking a lot of cigarettes, sometimes 30 a day. I've had a lot of trouble sleeping with the stress, which has affected my performance at work.

I have constant arguments with my husband about the debt and its greatly affecting my marriage. I'm very worried because my husband has started suffering from hypertension.

Victim C:

I don't like to escape my responsibilities and I will pay back the money but I feel I am being exploited because of the amount of the interest I am paying each month.

I am every stressed every month because I have to pay every month and what am I going to say when I don't have the money?

My husband has been working for a few months now and I am working full time so we are just about coping with our financial affairs, but the extra money needed to pay Mrs Ico is making life very difficult for us, especially as I have to pay the £900 all at once. Mrs Ico has not threatened me but she has been saying some nasty things about me and my friends who have borrowed money off her.