Warning of threat from loan sharks

PREDATORY loan sharks are preying on vulnerable families struggling to cope with the financial pressures of Christmas in the tightening grip of the credit crunch, it has been warned.

PREDATORY loan sharks are preying on vulnerable families struggling to cope with the financial pressures of Christmas in the tightening grip of the credit crunch, it has been warned.

Reg Ruffles, assistant county trading standards officer for Suffolk, said they were “extremely concerned” that the current economic climate would encourage those feeling the pinch to turn to illegal lenders.

Soaring rates of interest - some as high as 117,000% - are not uncommon while there is other evidence to suggest that more women are being coerced into sleeping with loan sharks to pay off excessive seasonal debts, he warned.

It comes in time for the start of National Consumer Week, which launches on Monday, and soon after the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) said they were overwhelmed with people seeking financial help - with Felixstowe and Ipswich CABs alone dealing with more than £10million of debt in 07/08.

As a result trading standards officials are stepping up their efforts to help people cope with mounting money worries in the run up to the festive period.

“Christmas is a very difficult time anyway but combined with the pressures of the credit crunch we're obviously worried that over the next few months it will become worse,” Mr Ruffles said.

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“As a result we'll be increasing publicity and offering advice at a number of workshops throughout the county where people can come along and speak to a member of staff in confidence and gain money saving tips and information about budgeting for the festive season and beyond.

“We want to talk with people and see what the best way forward is and how we can help them.”

Mr Ruffles said there was a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest the use of loan sharks is on the rise but it was often hard to secure a conviction.