“The worse it gets, the better for me.”
Who says it is D., a man who has worked as a loan shark in the United Kingdom for two decades and now says that his business — illegal — has never been so good.
He is one of two British moneylenders the BBC has recently spoken to.
The interviews reveal the dangers to which people who turn to non-official creditors are exposed to mitigate the impact of inflation and the high cost of living.
Enormous risks are associated with these loans, usually carried out without documentation, at high interest rates and often with brutal consequences.
D. says he illegally lent money to hundreds of people across the country after starting to work in security 20 years ago.
In the meeting with the reporter, in a warehouse, his face is covered by a fabric and dark glasses.
Almost all of his “clients” are repeat offenders, he says. They pay off their debts in two or three months and are usually back a few weeks later.
D. adds that demand for his services has skyrocketed with rising inflation.
According to him, single mothers and families who come to him looking for money to pay gas and electricity bills, or to buy groceries.
For these customers, he charges interest rates of up to 50%. The rest often face “double bubble” interest rates, where the original loan amount is doubled.
Mostly out of desperation, most of D.’s clients would be willing to accept whatever terms he decides to set, he says.
With prices on the rise, demand for their services is unlikely to wane anytime soon.
Research shared with the BBC suggests that, to the contrary, its potential customer base may be expanding.
A new report commissioned by Fair4All Finance, based on interviews with 287 people in London, Preston, Port Talbot and Glasgow who have used loan sharks over the past 3 years, shows the impact of illegal lending in the UK.
On average, their loans were around £3,000. Most respondents worked full-time at low wages.
D. calls himself an “enforcer,” in reference to what happens if payment dates are missed or his messages are ignored.
“The windows and front doors of your house are broken into and you might even get beaten up.”
He says physical assaults are “rare”, but admits to having committed violent acts – breaking legs, breaking teeth or sending people to hospital.
When asked why this kind of “execution” has to be so brutal, he says, “It’s personal. The way they hurt me, I want to hurt them — physically and financially.”
In his own words, he is “providing a service” that depends on people “helping him back” after the loan.
The ‘Boss’ of Business
Another loan shark the BBC spoke to, M. says he has lent millions of pounds to clients over the past 20 years.
He currently runs a team that operates in different areas of the UK and estimates he has around £2 million (almost R$ 15 million) in loans at the moment.
Money requests above a certain amount are forwarded directly to him.
M. deals with “the rich”—people who take out higher-value loans to finance home renovations or get their businesses out of trouble.
Interest rates rise with the associated risk and a guarantor is often required.
Customers have to provide a form of guarantee if they are unable to pay the installments.
Collateral ranges from watches, car keys, to photos of his friends’ IDs, so he knows how to find them and charge them for the money.
“I’m constantly surprised by the cases that come to me,” he says.
M. claims to have even financed birthday parties for famous soccer players – who pay him back on the day they receive their salary.
As most people are reluctant to talk openly about debt, little data is available on the number of creditors operating without a license.
In a report last year, the Center for Social Justice think tank estimated that around a million people in England could owe money to illegal loan sharks.
M. dismisses what he describes as an outdated view of “bully work”.
Your tactics as a loan shark are based on fear.
“Currently, work is more about becoming a nuisance to the person,” he says.
“If there is no contact, we can take pictures of the front of your house, or knock on the neighbor’s door asking where you are.”
“This fear, this intimidation, this coercion is better than a (violent) act”, he says.
Recent research by Fair4All Finance found that violence itself was rare, although threats of violence were common.
One man told the report’s authors that the threats he received seemed more real when they concerned his family. “I receive threats of attacks against my family… ‘Such a thing will happen to your mother, such a thing will happen to your brother’.”
A woman from Glasgow said she was forced to clean an office building for an illegal lender as an alternative way of paying back the money she had borrowed.
She described the experience as “humbling” and said she felt anxious and depressed. She now rarely leaves the house.
“Today, it’s much more about someone getting into your head than breaking your legs,” says Cath Wohlers, who works at an organization that prosecutes loan sharks in England.
“The loan shark could be anyone,” she adds, noting that one in five people her team took to prison last year were women.
Loan sharks’ customers are often refused credit from other sources before resorting to illegal loans.
Those with bad credit ratings often have limited and high cost borrowing options.
Cath Wohlers warns, “Longhanders will make you bleed yourself dry. It’s just not worth it.”
“If you are in debt, talk to your creditors and talk rather than borrowing more money to get out of debt.”
This text was originally published here.