CHESHIRE West and Chester Council has declared war on illegal money lending within the borough with a pioneering new campaign.
Loan sharks create misery for hundreds of families by offering unaffordable high-cost credit - often accompanied by threats, intimidation and violence should a payment be missed.
Ellesmere Port remains one of the worst affected areas in the country for both legal and illegal high cost lending and will be the focus for the trial six-month campaign.
It will see a raft of local organisations including Cheshire Police, Citizens Advice Bureau and West Cheshire Credit Union working together to ensure local residents are aware of the real alternatives to borrowing money from a loan shark and encourage people to name those operating in the area.
In a bid to crack down on loan sharks, Cheshire West and Chester (CWAC), has set up a free phone line so that residents can report concerns without fear of reprisals.
Councillor Lynn Riley, CWAC's executive member for localities, said: “Preying on residents who often only want to borrow a small amount of cash, loan sharks add despicable amounts of interest on, hold no paperwork, and back up their demands with threats and violence.
“We want to encourage victims to work with us to identify and put a stop to these illegal activities that result in misery, stress and heart-breaking upset. All information is treated with the strictest confidence.
“So please don't struggle on alone, making a bad situation even worse; call us we are here to help.”
The six-month campaign has been designed by Birmingham City Council’s Illegal Money Lending Team, who received Government funding to support anti-loan shark campaigns throughout the north west.
Council and partner organisations have received training on how to spot a loan shark, and how to support and advise those who have become victims of illegal money lending.
Flyers, posters, information packs, key rings and trolley tokens are being distributed throughout the town and a confidential line has now been set up for local residents to report those who they believe may be involved in illegal money lending.
If successful, the campaign could be rolled out borough-wide.
Ellesmere Port councillor Justin Madders said: “In order to tackle loan sharks it is vital that the community comes together to report their activities.
“We hear stories of these people even venturing up to people at the school gates to ingratiate themselves with their next victim. These people are ruthless, manipulative and without an ounce of compassion.
“Once they have their hooks into someone they don’t want to let go but it is up to us to give people the confidence and courage to know that if the loan sharks are reported they will be stopped.”
Cllr Madders added: “If people which to contact the team or even myself in confidence I can assure you that your anonymity will be protected."
Members of the public can seek advice and report a loan shark by phoning the Illegal Money Team Helpline on 0300 555 2222 or alternatively by visiting direct.gov.uk/stoploansharks.