Loan sharks turning to tech to inflict emotional harm, say police

Loan sharks have shifted to non-confrontational or non-damage tactics to harass their victims.
Loan sharks have shifted to non-confrontational or non-damage tactics to harass their victims.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Loan sharks are sending debtors videos of homes being set on fire, unwanted food deliveries and pictures of places where their loved ones frequent to get them to pay up.

Their new tactics fall under harassment without property damage, which has registered 942 cases in the first four months this year - a 17.5 per cent rise over the same period last year, according to police figures released on Thursday (June 7).

"Loan sharks have shifted to non-confrontational or non-damage tactics to harass their victims," said Superintendent Han Teck Kwong, whose unit investigates unlicensed moneylenders.

Supt Han said the new ways of harassment are not to be taken lightly because "the perceived fear and emotional harms are there".

Loan sharks thrive on fear and will "try all means" to force victims to pay up, he added, noting that technology has allowed them to target more people, such as unsolicited text and WhatsApp messages.

In February, The Straits Times reported how syndicates have been acquiring databases of mobile phone numbers and hounding potential customers, sometimes up to three times a day. The messages offer the usual loan shark come-ons - "100 per cent real lender"and "fast easy approval" repayment options.

Legally, licensed moneylenders are only allowed to advertise on their website and business premises.

A debtor, who only wanted to be known as Madam Tan, said that she borrowed $30,000 from loan sharks in 2013 to pay off credit card bills, which she incurred from her children's medical expenses and home payments.

 
 
 

The mother of three, who is in her 40s, said she had received a text promising easy ways to get money in exchange for her employment details, a copy of her identity card and information on the schools that her children attend.

"I saw the messages and went online to check out their company's names. They seemed like legal moneylenders," she said.

However, the initial sum ballooned to more than $400,000 earlier this year.

She discovered the lenders were loan sharks when they threatened to harm her if she did not pay up. They had also sent her pictures of her children's schools.

Madam Tan made a police report after loan sharks harassed her at her home and workplace earlier this year.

At that time, she had borrowed from 50 loan sharks to pay off her debts to each lender.

"I don't know how to face my children and now everybody knows (about the debts)," said Madam Tan. "I wish I never borrowed money from loan sharks and had gotten help from agencies or declared myself bankrupt instead."