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First arrests made by anti-loan shark team; Council squad picks up 29 over money scams.

Byline: Ben Glaze

A SQUAD cracking down on loan sharks has arrested 29 people for illegal money lending, laundering, blackmail and assault.

The Cardiff council-led Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit, launched 14 months ago, believes 827 cash-strapped individuals have fallen prey to dodgy lenders, according to figures released today by Plaid Cymru.

A total of pounds 54,300 has so far been seized across the nation, with frozen property and accounts estimated at pounds 500,000.

Loan books recovered show more than pounds 1m has been loaned by those suspected of charging super-high rates.

South Wales Central AMs Chris Franks and Leanne Wood, who obtained the statistics, today spoke of their fears the recession will force more broke households to seek help from loan sharks.

Mr Franks said: "Loan sharks will be eager to prey on such vulnerable people.

"The UK Government is still not doing enough to protect people's savings with schemes such as Farepak. This might discourage people from saving and be tempted into using unlicensed dealers." Cardiff council's executive member for communities, housing and social justice, Judith Woodman, said: "Thousands of households face debt problems in Wales and are exploited by illegal money lenders every year.

"The Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit is working in partnership with other agencies and local authorities throughout Wales to bring an end to the exploitation of some of our most vulnerable members of society." The unit's spokesman, Steven Hay, said: "Loan sharks are causing misery and despair across Wales.

"Officers from the Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit are having a growing impact by putting them out of business and wiping out the debts that hang over victims." Merthyr Tydfil Credit Union's credit controller Charlotte Pritchard said: "We come across quite a few people who are in the grips of a moneylender and they are often pressurised with violence.

"Our aim in linking in with the action being taken is to be there to provide a safe, friendly and, above all, low-cost place to lend money and to promote this within the area.

"If we find people are in a situation where they may feel a moneylender or loan shark is their only option, we will get them to speak to our specialist money advisor who will help to resolve their debt issues." Mrs Pritchard's credit union has helped 180 people in Merthyr Tydfil, providing most with low-interest loans.

Urging a further clampdown on dodgy lenders, Plaid AM Ms Wood said: "I support wholeheartedly action against illegal moneylenders who need to be hit really hard at all times with prosecutions and seizing of their assets.

"There is some evidence to suggest loan sharks could also be involved in major crime.

"We have to also look at practical ways of protecting vulnerable people in debt, like making sure advice agencies get adequate funding to meet growing demand."
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 27, 2009
Words:474
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