TRADING standards are clamping down on loan sharks operating in Ellesmere Port.
The Cheshire West and Chester Council department believe a significant number of ‘small time’ loan sharks are extorting money from cash-strapped residents.
Disturbing evidence reveals some financially crippled families are being forced to pay huge interest rates.
Council officers are appealing for residents to shop loan sharks in the town.
Cllr Lynn Riley, executive member for community and environment, said: “We want to encourage victims to work with us to identify and put a stop to these illegal activities that result in misery, stress and heart-breaking upset.
“All information is treated with the strictest confidence.
“Preying on residents who often only want to borrow a small amount of cash, these ‘doorstep loan companies’ add despicable amounts of interest on, hold no paperwork and back up their demands with threats and violence.
“Statistics on loan sharking activities are based on successful prosecution only and are merely the tip of the iceberg of what is becoming a massive criminal enterprise.”
A spokesman for the Trading Standards Illegal Money Lending Team explained: “When people can’t pay, the loan shark will then turn on them and use intimidation, violence and other tactics to get money.
“We have come across examples of assault, kidnap, intimidation and rape. “The highest annual interest rate we have come across is 131,000%.”
Cheshire Neighbours Credit Union is based in Ellesmere Port’s civic centre and is branching out to the Rossmore and Westminster estates.
Volunteer Ed Green explained: “In areas like Ellesmere Port, it tends to be small loan sharks who operate below the radar. Loan sharks create more crime as victims resort to crime to pay them back.”
If you need financial help, call West Cheshire Credit Union on 01244 399006 or Cheshire Neighbours Credit Union on 0300 111 2150.