News item

Don’t get bitten by loan sharks this Christmas, TSI warns

Consumers who are worried about the 'credit crunch' this Christmas are being warned not to get bitten by loan sharks during the festive season.

The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) has joined with the Birmingham Illegal Money Lending Team and Citizens Advice to warn shoppers facing financial problems this yuletide not to turn to loan sharks to pay for Christmas shopping.

TSI is issuing the message during National Consumer Week, which was launched on Monday (17 November) at the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in London.

Experts from the Government-funded Illegal Money Lending Team say they expect to see an increase in the number of people who borrow cash illegally in the run up to Christmas due to the current economic crisis that is gripping the country.

Ron Gainsford, chief executive of TSI, said: 'Christmas often causes stress to many families due to the extra financial pressure it creates. The 'credit crunch' will undoubtedly add to the anxiety of those who are worried about the cost of paying for Christmas.

'We want to make sure that consumers who need extra cash in the run up to the festive period don't make the mistake of turning to loan sharks.'

The Birmingham team - which covers Central England, East England, the South West, North West and Yorkshire and Humberside - was set up in 2004 as a pilot project to search out and prosecute illegal money lenders.

Since it was established, the team has wiped out more than £7.5 million of illegal debt owed by some of society's most vulnerable people, helped more than 6,000 victims, secured prison sentences totalling 33 years and reported more than 60 defendants for illegal money lending.

Councillor Neil Eustace, chair of Birmingham City Council's public protection committee, said: 'The Birmingham-based team was so successful when it was launched that the Government decided to expand the scheme in 2007 to create four more teams in England, as well as teams for Wales and Scotland.

'Not only does the team seek out, investigate and prosecute loan sharks, it also provides support for victims by looking to fill the hole that the loan shark has left.

'We are expecting to see a considerable increase in the number of people who turn to loan sharks in the next month or so because it is becoming harder for consumers to obtain credit. If people are looking to borrow, they need to ask the lender to see their consumer credit licence as this is proof the lender is legal.

'We want to get the message out there that you are likely to get ripped off if you borrow from someone without a licence and Christmas could end up costing a lot more than you are expecting.'

Consumer Minister Gareth Thomas said: 'Let the unscrupulous and predatory illegal lenders be warned - if they try to draw families into the murky world of illegal money lending this Christmas, they will face investigation and prosecution by anti-loan shark teams working across the country.'

Consumers who think they have borrowed money off an illegal lender can contact the Illegal Money Lending Team that covers their area. (Contact details for each team are listed in Notes to editors.)

Notes to editors

For enquiries about the Birmingham-based team, please contact Sarah Kirby on 0121 303 1271.

Hotline Numbers for the Illegal Money Lending Teams are:

Central England (West Midlands), South East, North West, Yorkshire and Humber and East of England - email or call 0300 555 2222.

North East - call 08000 30 42 10 or contact the confidential text messaging service by texting: net(space)shark(space) plus message to 60003.

London - call 020 7364 6886, email or text: Shark Bait (+ message) and to 60003.

South West - email or call 0300 1234 247.

East Mids - email or text: shark loan (your message) to 60003. People can also call one of the hotlines that cover the region -
0115 8510 351 for Nottingham, 01332 644 000 for Derby, 0116 217 9550 for Leicester, 01604 651 1099 for Northampton or 01522 848 299 for Lincoln.

Wales - email or call 0300 123 33 11.

Scotland - call 01412 876655.

National Consumer Week

This is the 21st annual National Consumer Week organised by the Trading Standards Institute and for the fourth year in association with Consumer Direct, the government-funded consumer advice telephone and online service.

National Consumer Week is a platform to raise awareness about specific consumer issues and particularly to highlight new developments in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace. It profiles the work of and is supported by local authority trading standards services across the UK.

Trading Standards Institute

The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.

Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.

TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.

They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.

Consumer Direct - 08454 04 05 06

Consumer Direct is a Government-funded telephone and online consumer advice service that works in partnership with Local Authority Trading Standards Services. It provides clear, practical and impartial advice and information to help consumers resolve problems and disagreements with suppliers of goods and services. Consumer Direct is available from 0800-1830 Monday to Friday, and 0900-1300 Saturday, excluding bank and public holidays.

Calls cost a maximum of 4p per minute from a BT landline. Calls from mobiles or other networks may vary. Your service provider may charge a minimum cost per call. The advice and information given is free.