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Agencies warn don't be bitten by loan sharks!

Don't get bitten by loan sharks - that's the warning from local agencies in the Staffordshire Moorlands during this year's 'bite back' campaign.

Staffordshire Moorlands District Council has teamed up with the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), Staffordshire Police and Cheadle Citizens Advice Bureau to make people aware of the dangers of borrowing from loan sharks and signpost victims to the appropriate help and support available through the IMLT.

Loan sharks often target low-income families, preying on struggling individuals and exploiting them for personal financial gain. An estimated 310,000 households nationally are borrowing from illegal money lenders, many of whom charge exorbitant rates of interest to trap people into a spiral of debt.

In the Moorlands, officers from IMLT have provided training to staff at agencies that work with the public to ensure they know the signs to look out for when dealing with vulnerable individuals who may be in the grip of a loan shark.

And this year the team have focussed on Cheadle where they also carried out a leaflet drop to highlight the work that's being done to tackle illegal money lending and the help and support available.

Tony Quigley, Head of the England ILMT, said: "Illegal money lending is a despicable crime that affects the most vulnerable in our society. We are pleased to be working with our partners to raise awareness of this crime and the help that's available to victims.

"If you, or someone you know, has been the victim of a loan shark we urge you to get in touch with the IMLT on 0300 555 2222. Your call will be handled by a trained officer from the team and all information will be taken anonymously and in confidence."

Local agencies and councillors signed a charter pledging zero tolerance approach to loan sharks at the Cheadle Town Council meeting on Tuesday 16 October.

Councillor Mike Bowen, cabinet member for communities at Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, said: "We are pleased to be supporting 'bite back' week again this year as it plays a key role in raising awareness of the dangers of illegal money lenders.

"Loan sharks are not the answer and spell nothing but misery for people who borrow from them, so our strong advice to our residents is - please don't get bitten!

"Reputable independent organisations, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau or Money Advice Service, offer financial advice and we would encourage anyone considering using loan sharks to talk to these organisations first before going down a route they might come to regret."

Sgt Robert Peacock, from the Local Neighbourhood Policing Team for Leek, said: "We are seizing this opportunity to work with our partners to raise awareness of loan sharks and the misery they can bring.

"Residents who find themselves in difficult situations are encouraged to seek help and support through the right channels and not to turn to loan sharks."

Nationally, illegal money lending teams have secured more than 380 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity leading to nearly 328 years worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £72.5 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 27,000 people.