Loan sharks are getting more brazen and sophisticated in their tactics, even as the number of harassment reports against them has jumped.
A Straits Times investigation has shown just how skilled these unlicensed moneylenders now are with new communications technology.
Loan shark syndicates have been acquiring databases of mobile phone numbers and hounding potential customers. Some of those targeted are being bombarded with SMS or WhatsApp messages, sometimes up to three times a day, with some people even receiving cold calls. The messages offer the usual loan shark come-ons - "100 per cent real lender"and "fast easy approval" repayment options.
Businessman Jeyavijay Thillaiampalam, 46, usually blocks unfamiliar numbers on his mobile phone but that does not stop occasional messages sent from new numbers from "popping up".
Rise in reported cases against loan sharks
The Straits Times scrutinised three WhatsApp messages and spoke to three of the senders.
One admitted getting phone numbers from his "boss", who is supposedly a licensed moneylender.
The man, who went by the name Jack, said he got the numbers from his boss. "We do not know who the person (the recipient of the Whats-App message) is."
But Jack's claim must be taken with a pinch of salt, said Mr Peter Tan, president of the Moneylender's Association of Singapore. He said loan sharks are now more sophisticated and like to be linked with legal moneylending businesses as it makes them appear legitimate.
He said: "It has become rampant. They have also become brazen. Now they even resort to making phone calls... talking to you directly."
Licensed moneylenders are not allowed to solicit for customers via phone calls or text messaging, added Mr Tan, who believes that someone must be leaking databases of contact numbers to loan sharks.
Jack said: "We do not meet in person. We will check your details online. After we check, we will see how much we can lend you."
The loan sharks will ask for proof of your bank account number and company's name, and photographs of your NRIC and income statement.
Ron, another loan shark that The Straits Times communicated with, even asked for this reporter's SingPass password. He said this is so that he can "log in for 10 minutes to verify your profile".
Ron also provides 4-D, football and online casino betting.
The loan sharks also offer various repayment options - weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or on pay days - with money transfers possible within 15 to 30 minutes.
They levy interest rates of between 10 per cent and 20 per cent, considerably more than that of legitimate moneylenders. The rate will increase sharply if a borrower defaults on repayments.
Jack said everything would be fine "as long as you do not give problems on your repayments".
There were 3,806 reported cases of unlicensed moneylending and harassment last year, a 12.3 per cent increase from the 3,388 cases in 2016.
Police said 1,474 people were arrested last year, compared with 1,393 in 2016, a rise of 5.8 per cent.
The Personal Data Protection Commission advises the public not to reply to text messages or return calls to unknown numbers as they "are likely to be associated with unlicensed moneylending and illegal gambling activities". It recommends lodging a police report or calling the National Crime Prevention Council on 1800-924-5664 (1800-X-AH-LONG).