England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) has received reports of loan sharks preying on people looking for love online around St Valentine’s Day and Halton Trading Standards is warning residents to beware.
These criminals are setting up online dating profiles to lure victims into fake romance relationships and quickly trapping them in a dangerous cycle of debt.
One victim was tricked into taking out a loan after telling her new love interest about her financial problems.
She initially borrowed £3,000 but her debt soon spiralled out of control. She contacted the IMLT for help when the loan shark demanded £10,000 and sexual favours to pay off her debt.
In other cases, victims have been blackmailed on social sites used by the LGBTQ+ community by loan sharks threatening to download and share private photographs if they fail to pay their debts.
The IMLT has today launched a social media campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of loan sharks on dating sites and apps and help prevent people from becoming victims of illegal money lending.
Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “It’s disgraceful that loan sharks are preying on innocent people looking for love online.
“These crooks strike up relationships with people to earn their trust and when they have them hooked, they trick them into taking out loans and demand much more in return. This often leads to blackmail and threats of violence if borrowers get behind with repayments.”
Halton Borough Council’s Executive Board Member for Trading Standards, Cllr Dave Cargill, said: “This is a devastating crime that impacts victims both financially and emotionally.
“We urge people to get in touch if they have been affected by illegal money lending, so we can bring perpetrators to justice and provide support to those who need it most.”
Other scams to look out for on these sites include romance scams and the notorious advance-fee scam.
Looking for love online? Make sure you don’t fall into a loan shark trap by following these important tips:
Don’t accept friend requests or offers for loans from people you don’t know on dating apps and social media sites like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.
Never give too many details away about your personal life online. This makes it easy for criminals to track down where you live and puts you and your personal data in jeopardy.
Never give your bank details, send money to, or receive cash from someone you have only met online.
Try to use trusted dating sites for all messaging. Loan sharks will often try to move their activity off reputable sites as soon as possible.
If you have concerns that your potential date may be a loan shark, don’t hesitate to shut down communication immediately.
What to do if you have fallen victim to a loan shark online
Stop communicating with the person immediately.
Check the person is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to lend money.
If you think you have borrowed from a loan shark, report the lender and notify the website or app where you met the lender too.
Anyone who believes they might be the victim of a loan shark can contact the Stop Loan Sharks 24-hour confidential helpline on 0300 555 2222, email email@example.com or complete an online report form. Live Chat is available on the website 9am-5pm weekdays.
The Stop Loan Sharks app is free to download on both iOS and Android devices from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
If you’re struggling with your finances you can obtain free, confidential and impartial debt advice from organisations such as the Money Advice Service, StepChange Debt Charity and Citizens Advice