A CRACKDOWN on Christmas loan sharks is underway in Darlington.

Throughout the festive season, Darlington Borough Council will be working with the government-funded England Illegal Money Lending Team to put an end to unlawful loans.

The team will investigate and prosecute illegal loan sharks and other related offences, including threats, violence and other extreme methods of repayment.

In many cases, loan sharks are also involved in drugs and firearms offences, which will also be prosecuted as part of the campaign.

The team fears that in the run-up to Christmas, loan sharks will target those who are most desperate for money, after figures revealed that 20 per cent of past loan shark victims had originally borrowed to pay for festivities.

Councillor Chris McEwan, the council’s cabinet member for economy and regeneration said: “The message is clear- we must put a stop to loan sharks.

"What may seem like a small loan to tide people over for Christmas could end up costing them well into the New Year and beyond.

“The effect is not just financial; the impact on the lives of victims and their families can be horrific.”

The team has dealt with victims who have paid tens of thousands of pounds back on small loans, and some victims have been forced to hand over their bank cards or personal identification numbers (PIN).

In many cases the terms of the loan are unclear, so borrowers do not know exactly how much they are paying. Extra amounts and interest payments are often added at random, so the debt is never-ending.

As a result they are urging residents not to borrow money from illegal loan sharks, and instead use a legitimate credit union.

Tony Brockley from Darlington Credit Union said: “If you find yourself struggling to make ends meet please contact Darlington Credit Union at our main office on Church Row, in Darlington, which is open from 10am until 4pm, Monday to Friday.”

For more information visit their website darlingtoncreditunion.co.uk or call 01325-520005.

Anybody who has been the victim of a loan shark can call 0300-555-2222 in confidence. Lines are open 24 hours a day and are dealt with by a trained investigator.