New Campaign To Expose 'Cruel Reality' Of Predatory Money Lending

Crimestoppers has launched a new campaign to expose the "cruel reality" of predatory money lending, working in partnership with the PSNI, the Executive Programme on Paramilitarism and Organised Crime and Advice NI.

Over the next weeks, the independent charity, police and partners will be reaching out to communities to encourage the public to speak up.

Superintendent Joanne Gibson, Service Lead for Strategic Partnerships, Prevention & Community Engagement, explained: "Criminal and predatory money lenders make their living from exploiting and intimidating others and, sadly, they are now taking advantage of current economic times to tighten their grip.

"It's a manipulative process, which starts with the lender supposedly 'helping' those who are struggling to make ends meet. Please be assured, these criminals are not working in your, or for your communities', interests in any shape or form. When loan repayments, with inevitable hefty interest rates, are not met the lenders will use threats and violence. Victims with unpaid debts, and indeed their loved ones, are exploited and often forced to repay by other means, such as storing or selling drugs. We've also heard shocking anecdotes of young people being forced into sexual exploitation as a form of repayment.

"The existing 'Ending the Harm' public awareness campaign, delivered by the NI Executive Programme on Paramilitarism and Organised Crime, has been successful in bringing this hidden harm to the fore. We need to now build on that and encourage people to contact the Police or Crimestoppers and give us the information to help pursue those who are taking advantage of people in need.

"The huge issue is that victims may be too frightened or ashamed to speak up, with some perhaps accepting their punishment is in some way 'normal' or 'acceptable'.

"Please be assured that this practise – the unrealistic and illegal lending, the control and subsequent dire consequences – is in no way normal in any society, and the time has come to say enough is enough. Currently because of fear or stigma, we're relying upon anecdotes and hearsay, rather than actual reports and it's this very issue that we are striving to resolve.
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"There's no easy fix, but we will work relentlessly to expose the toxic harms of predatory money lending, and to address the stigma or shame that innocent victims may feel.  We can only do this with the support of partners and communities, and we're therefore pleased to take this opportunity to work collectively with Crimestoppers, Advice NI and the Northern Ireland Executive Programme on Paramilitarism and Organised Crime."

Mick Duthie, Director of Operations at the independent charity Crimestoppers, said: "We know that fear and intimidation is used to stop people from speaking up about those involved in predatory money lending. This allows criminals to profit, often at the expense of the most vulnerable in society.

"Our charity guarantees you'll stay completely anonymous when you contact us either via our website or on the phone.

"Please remember that with Crimestoppers you have an alternative. We are here for you 24/7. No one will ever know you contacted us and your information could help make a difference."

Detective Superintendent Avine Kelly from Organised Crime Branch said: "Predatory money lending – whether from individuals, organised crime groups or paramilitary groups – is illegal. We will work tirelessly to bring these criminals before the courts and, with our partners, to seize those assets acquired from exploiting the communities they claim to protect. Where victims come forward, we will ensure they are safe and supported. It's also important to highlight that we don't in fact need victims' co-operation to secure convictions.  All of our convictions to-date have proceeded successfully without victim statements. We know some people may be fearful or ashamed to report this type of criminality to police, and that's why we have partnered with Crimestoppers, who offer a totally anonymous method of reporting."

Advice NI is an independent charity which offers confidential debt advice to anyone who finds themselves in this situation. Bob Stronge, Advice NI Chief Executive, said:"We have seen an increase in people contacting our free debt advice helpline over the last quarter due to the cost-of-living crisis. Advisors are dealing with more people experiencing extreme financial difficulties and poverty, some of whom will turn to illegal and high-cost money lenders to make ends meet.

"We would encourage anyone struggling to make ends meet to contact our Freephone helpline on 0800 915 4604 to have a benefits entitlement check carried out to ensure they are in receipt of all the benefits they are entitled to, or speak to our debt advisors who are trained experts, and can provide help and support to those in any type of debt and will work with you to find a solution that is right for you."

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