PSNI's new campaign targets predatory money lenders while urging victims: 'Don't be afraid to speak up'

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The cruel reality of predatory money lending is the focus of a new campaign led by the charity Crimestoppers, with the backing of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Executive Programme on Paramilitarism and Organised Crime, and Advice NI.

Over the next weeks, the independent charity, police and partners are 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.

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“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 cruel reality of predatory money lending is the focus of a new campaign led by the charity Crimestoppers, with the backing of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Executive Programme on Paramilitarism and Organised Crime and Advice NI.  Photo: PSNIThe cruel reality of predatory money lending is the focus of a new campaign led by the charity Crimestoppers, with the backing of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Executive Programme on Paramilitarism and Organised Crime and Advice NI.  Photo: PSNI
The cruel reality of predatory money lending is the focus of a new campaign led by the charity Crimestoppers, with the backing of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Executive Programme on Paramilitarism and Organised Crime and Advice NI. Photo: PSNI

“The existing ‘Ending the Harm’ public awareness campaign 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.

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“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. 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.”

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Mick Duthie, Director of Operations at the independent charity Crimestoppers, added: “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.”

The campaign reminds the public that predatory money lending – whether from individuals, organised crime groups or paramilitary groups – is illegal. Detective Superintendent Avine Kelly from Organised Crime Branch said: “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.”

Advice NI is an independent charity which offers confidential debt advice to anyone who finds themselves in this situation.

The charity’s freephone helpline is available on 0800 915 4604.