Loan sharks turn to new tactics to harass debtors

Loan sharks have been busy during the weeks of the circuit breaker, wasting no time in finding new, social distancing ways to harass their debtors to pay up.

Their intimidation tactics have ranged from bombarding households with unwanted deliveries to sending unwitting runners to homes to do fake Covid-19 surveys.

When a caller asked to pay for his food order upon delivery, Thai eatery owner X.K. Zhou hesitated at first. Mr Zhou, 42, usually requests payment upfront for online orders, but the caller claimed he was having difficulties with the platform. Mr Zhou relented but it turned out to be a harassment ploy.

When the food arrived, the home owner denied having made the order, and told the delivery rider that a loan shark had been sending multiple packages to her home.

"We were very angry. There was food and a lot of effort wasted," said Mr Zhou, who no longer makes exceptions for online payments.

The police have issued multiple advisories during this period to warn people against the new tactics loan sharks are employing.

Earlier this month, they also warned that loan sharks were hiring unsuspecting individuals to conduct fake Covid-19 surveys at debtors' homes, under the guise of enforcing stay-home notices.

The illegal moneylenders advertised the jobs as "Stay Home Personnel Checkers" on social media and online marketplaces, and at least six people responded to the job advertisements. They are now being investigated for acting as runners, said the police. It is not clear if the runners knew they were acting for illegal moneylenders, although the police said they did not receive payment for their "jobs".

Illegal moneylenders have also cashed in on the economic downturn by tricking desperate individuals into paying an "advance" to get a loan, which was never extended.

 

Credit Association of Singapore president Peter Tan said loan scams have been rampant during the circuit breaker, with fraudsters advertising non-existent loan schemes through text messages. Licensed moneylenders are not allowed to run any direct advertisements through text messages, he stressed.

In some instances, scammers masquerade as employees of licensed moneylenders and persuade the individuals to pay an advance to get the loan, he said.


ST ILLUSTRATION: CEL GULAPA

Licensed moneylenders are allowed to operate during the circuit breaker, for a limited number of hours, but individuals can get a loan only by signing a contract at an office, said Mr Tan.

Two weeks ago, two victims went to the home of a licensed moneylender, demanding the loans they had paid an advance for through an "employee", he added. The moneylender told them they had been tricked as no employee would ask for an advance, and persuaded them to call the police.

Mr Tan warned that loan scams are likely to spike in the coming weeks, as more people will be in need of money after losing their jobs. "The only thing we can do is to remind people about this, so that fewer people will get scammed," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2020, with the headline 'Loan sharks turn to new tactics to harass debtors'. Print Edition | Subscribe