CASH seized from loan sharks is being poured back into cracking down on illegal money lenders in the Darlington area.

The Government’s Illegal Money Lending Team is working with North-East councils, including Darlington Borough Council’s Trading Standards, to highlight the dangers of loan sharks and encourage victims to come forward.

Using proceeds of crime money taken from convicted loan sharks, the Team has funded magnetic strips displaying a hotline number for reporting loan sharks which will appear on bin wagons across the town.

It is hoped that the campaign will help reduce the practice which has seen an estimated 310,000 households indebted to loan sharks who often add interest and increase the amounts owed at random.

The highest interest seen by an illegal lender was equivalent to 131,000 per cent APR, and in some cases the loan sharks will take items as security including passports, driving licenses or even bank cards with the victim’s PIN number to withdraw directly from borrower’s accounts.

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

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

Coun McEwan urged residents to try safer borrowing routes such as Darlington Credit Union instead of turning to dubious sources for cash.

Tony Quigley Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said: “Loan sharks are a scourge on our communities, trapping people into spiral of debt and often inflicting harm through threats, violence and other extreme methods to enforce repayment.

“No matter how strapped for cash you are, our message is clear, loan sharks are never the answer.

“There is help at hand if you or someone you know has been the victim of a loan shark.

“Call us in confidence on 0300-555-2222. Lines are open 24/7.”

Darlington Credit Union is located on Church Row in the town centre and is open weekdays from 10am to 4pm.

Its newest collection point is at Cockerton Library on Mondays and Fridays from 10am to noon and Thursdays from 2pm to 4pm.