Loan sharks are sending debtors videos of homes set on fire and pictures of places frequented by their loved ones, to coerce them to pay up.
These new scare tactics were adopted in many of the 942 cases reported in the first four months of this year, a 17.5 per cent increase over the same period last year, a police spokesman said yesterday.
Categorised as harassment without property damage, these illegal methods were largely used by unlicensed moneylenders.
Said Superintendent Han Teck Kwong, whose unit investigates such moneylenders: "Loan sharks have shifted to non-confrontational or non-damage tactics to harass their victims."
But such harassment must not be taken lightly because "the perceived fear and emotional harm are there", he told reporters in highlighting the new tactics used by loan sharks.
He also said technology has allowed them to target more people.
Loan sharks are increasingly sending unsolicited text messages, sometimes via WhatsApp, to bait potential debtors, said Supt Han.
Number of cases reported in the first four months of this year, many of which fall under harassment without property damage.
Their victims could receive the messages up to three times a day. Some even receive cold calls from syndicates which, The Straits Times reported in February, had bought databases of mobile phone numbers.
The messages offer the usual loan shark come-ons: "100 per cent real lender" and "fast easy approval" repayment options.
Licensed moneylenders can advertise only on their website and business premises.
A debtor, who wanted to be known only as Madam Tan, said a $30,000 loan she took from loan sharks in 2013 ballooned to more than $400,000 this year.
The mother of three, who is in her 40s, had used her credit cards to pay her children's medical expenses and the mortgage of her flat.
While struggling to pay her credit card bills, she received text messages from loan sharks, informing her of easy ways to get money in exchange for her employment details, a copy of her identity card and information about the schools her children attended.
"I checked the names of the companies online. They seemed like legal moneylenders," she said.
She found out they were loan sharks when they threatened her with harm if she did not pay up.
She made a police report after the loan sharks harassed her at her home and workplace earlier this year. They had also sent her pictures of her children's schools.
Over the years, she borrowed from more loan sharks to settle her growing debt and, at her worst, she had debts with about 50 loan sharks.
"I wish I had never borrowed money from loan sharks and instead got help from social welfare agencies or declared myself bankrupt."