Mother whose son was driven to brink of death by loan sharks warns of dangers

A mother whose son was driven to the brink of suicide after being trapped by loan sharks is warning others not to fall victim to illegal money lenders as the cost of living bites.

Claire's son tried to take his own life after running up a debt with a loan shark. She's still terrified of the people who threatened her and her family, so we are protecting her identity.

Claire's son tried to take his own life after he got into debt with a loan shark

Claire says: "We didn't know things were seriously wrong until they were seriously wrong. He couldn't cope anymore and took an overdose.

"He didn't have any money and knew what was coming his way. He used to lock himself in his house and wouldn't open the door to anyone.

"We thought he was suffering from anxiety.  We'd have to ring to let him know we were coming round so he'd open the door.

"He just stayed in his house and didn't interact with people."

After Claire's son confided in her, his family grouped together to pay off the debt.

Claire said: "Even when you think you're out of their clutches- you're still terrified of seeing them in the street.

"They prey on people who are desperate and I can only see it getting worse with all these price rises."

Officers from Lancashire Police and the England Illegal Money Lending Team carry out a joint operation on a suspected loan shark

The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) are a dedicated team of specialist officers tasked with tracking down loan sharks and providing support to victims.

They carry out around 50 raids each year on suspected loan sharks - and they've never been in greater demand.

The North West sees the highest number of raids due to the large volume of cases in Manchester, Merseyside and Lancashire.

I went out with the team to film an early morning raid on a suspected loan shark in Lancashire.

Violence and intimidation are often tools of the illegal lender's trade, so officers are prepared for anything.

One officer raps on the door, while two stand behind him armed with a battering ram. At first it looks as though someone has blocked the front door but the officers are soon inside and emerge minutes later with the suspect in handcuffs.

Tony Quigley - head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team

Tony Quigley, head of the IMLT, explains they have a search warrant and permission to use force to enter the property.

His investigators scour the property for evidence. They're looking for paperwork, computers and mobile phones.

Officers soon find something of interest in the boot of the suspect's Jaguar car and leave the house with bulging evidence bags.

Tony explains how many loan sharks charge "double bubble" - the amount of the original loan, plus the same again on top.

He said: "We think the average APR is around 15,000% but we've seen it go as high as 4.5 million.

"I've never seen a poor loan shark - sometimes they can be making a quarter of a million a year - sometimes it's four or five million a year."

He added: "The psychological impact on people who have been victims of illegal money lenders is really sad.

"We've seen people who have tried to commit suicide. It's just dreadful the way they take control.

"We've seen individuals who have sent threatening texts, threatening snapchats, people who have come round the corner holding on to your kids.

"It's just hideous what they get up to. "

The suspect who was arrested in Lancashire remains under investigation pending further enquiries.

A report published by the Centre for Social Justice estimated 1.08 million people could be borrowing from an illegal money lender – more commonly known as a loan shark.

This figure has more than trebled since 2010.

With price increases on everything from fuel to food making it increasingly tough for households to make ends meet, experts say unlicensed lenders are stepping in, offering loans to the desperate at astronomical interest rates.

This credit union has seen an increase in people asking for help after running up a debt with a loan shark

Sheenagh Young, Chief Executive Officer at South Manchester Credit Union, says they're dealing with a big increase in people asking for help after getting into debt with a loan shark.

Many were already struggling and unable to get a loan or card from a bank

Sheenagh told me: "One of the strap lines we use is that loansharks come as friends, so it's often people other people know- in the school playground, at work, in a local shop, in their family or their friends and it can be a person who appears to understand what you're going through.

"Everything seems fine and then it become apparent that it's not ok - nothing is written down, it's not clear how much you have to pay back.

"It goes on and on, then it can get into harassment and violence."

The Union's helped lots of members turn their lives around by offering them legal and affordable loans. They want to bite back against the illegal money lenders.

But with loan sharks circling in most communities, the fear is families pushed into debt by the cost of living will be a prime target.

Help and advice

  • You can contact the Stop Loan Sharks 24/7 Helpline on 0300 555 2222

  • Live Chat available 9am-5pm weekdays at

  • You can find out more Credit Unions here.

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