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Online loan sharks circle on social media this Christmas

Loan sharks are turning to social media to hook people into a cycle of dangerous debt, according to the Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit (WIMLU) and Credit Unions of Wales.

WIMLU manager Sarah Smith says that there are concerns that in the Covid pandemic and with Christmas around the corner, more people are falling prey to unscrupulous lenders online: “Loan sharks are increasingly using social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, to advertise their illegal loans and target potential victims.

“They also use social media community groups and local selling pages.”

Citizens’ Advice has reported that over 280,000 people in Wales have fallen behind on essential bills, and a third of people with household bill arrears have been unable to afford food or other basic necessities in the period since the Coronavirus pandemic began.

With people throughout Wales struggling financially due to the pandemic the fear is that the added expense of Christmas could make them vulnerable to illegal money lenders.

Illegal money lenders will lure people in with seemingly attractive loan offers, but will quickly resort to intimidation, threats and violence to enforce repayment and trap borrowers in a terrifying spiral of debt.

Leanne Herberg CEO of Cardiff & Vale Credit Union said: “There is evidence that one in five victims met their lender on social media in England, and it’s likely that there are similar rates in Wales.”.

“The restrictions on meeting people in person during the pandemic means that many of us are spending more time online, and unfortunately that means loan sharks have easier access to people than ever.

“When you consider how much personal information we share on social media, this only adds to the danger of online loan sharks, who can seem friendly at first but that can quickly change.

“As member-owned, ethical savings and loan providers, credit unions provide trusted financial services to people across our communities in Wales that are both safe and affordable.

“We are available online, in branch  and by telephone and urge anyone thinking of taking any form of credit this Christmas to make sure that it is with a regulated lender.”

WIMLU would always recommend that people who need to borrow money should talk to their local Credit Union about safe and ethical financial products and services.

Sarah Smith of WIMLU said: “We urge people to be vigilant when online – if you spot a suspicious loan advert on social media report it to WIMLU on the confidential 24-hour hotline 0300 123 33 11. And if you’ve borrowed money from a loan shark we are here to help you.”