CASH-STRAPPED Ellesmere Port families are being warned not to use doorstep lenders.

Council officers are working with Trading Standards and Cheshire Constabulary to help drive loan sharks out of the town.

Detective Inspector Terry Tinsley of the Cheshire Constabulary economic crime unit said: “The current economic downturn may cause people to consider approaching money-lending firms.

“We advise individuals to only lend money from reputable sources such as banks or credit unions.

“We have dealt with several cases involving loan sharks and hear disturbing tales of victims who are threatened and suffer intimidation at the hands of those who lend money illegally.”

Cllr Lynn Riley, executive member for community and environment for Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “We want to encourage victims to work with us to put a stop to these illegal activities.”

“Preying on residents who often only want to borrow a small amount, these people add despicable amounts of interest, hold no paperwork and back up demands with threats and violence.”

A spokesman for the Trading Standards illegal money lending team added: “When people can’t pay the loan shark will use intimidation, violence and other tactics to get money. We have even come across examples of kidnap and rape. The highest annual interest rate we have come across is 131,000%.”

The Cheshire Neighbours Credit Union, based in Ellesmere Port Civic Centre, has been operating for just a year and, with 700 members, is the fastest-growing new credit union in the UK.

Volunteer Helen Spruin said: “It is very difficult to pay off a loan shark and people who borrow from doorstep lenders are just making their situation worse.

“Most families can avoid going to doorstep lenders or high-interest weekly payment stores by using a credit union instead. We even have schemes to help people get white goods, furniture or tenancy deposits.

“Many people can borrow straight away.”

Contact West Cheshire Credit Union on 01244 399006 or Cheshire Neighbours Credit Union on 0300 111 2150.