But as the festive season takes off, the risk is always heightened as families are terrified of not delivering the kind of Christmas their loved ones had hoped for.
Throw in a year like 2020, when people across the country have been plunged into poverty and uncertainty because of the Covid-19 crisis, and the threat carried by illegal money lenders has never been greater.
The style adopted by these criminals, who specialise in preying on the vulnerable, is changing too.
The world is moving online, and that trend has been accelerated by coronavirus. But so too are the criminals.
Recent research from England shows one in five people who fell victim to loan sharks were discovered through social media, and there are similar concerns here in Scotland.
Where before the illegal money lenders may have unscrupulously gone door-to-door or scoured pubs and shopping centres in the hope of securing what they would see as business, they now prowl platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
And it’s not just what we might consider obvious targets they pursue – anyone who’s feeling the heat financially could be lured in by offers of a loan, unaware of the dire consequences that await.
That’s why the Scottish Illegal Money Lending Unit (SIMLU) has set up the Charter Mark scheme, which awards organisations on the front line who take a zero-tolerance attitude to this cruel and illicit lending.
Those who achieve this Charter Mark pledge to work with us to increase their reach in communities and make it easier for residents to report illegal loan shark activity, knowing they can do safely and in confidence.
Instant cash from loan sharks can seem appealing, especially when the chips are down, but the arrangement soon turns into a nightmare.
On average, such deals end up costing three times more than a legal loan. Even those which seem legitimate and well-meaning often result in massive interest repayments, with such lenders unlikely to be authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority.
We cannot stress strongly enough the dangers of accepting loans from informal, unlicenced and often intimidating individuals or groups.
But if people have, we are here to assist in the next steps in helping them get out of the situation safely and unscathed.
And while we continue to directly help those in need, the Charter Mark scheme will grow and help create a network of organisations on the ground which can uncover and tackle illegal lending, putting an end to an evil practice which has long had its day.
Covid-19 may have created the perfect storm for loan sharks seeking to capitalise on misery and instability, but that also means there’s never been a better time to stop them.
A free and confidential helpline for those in financial difficulties is available on 0800 074 0878 and will remain open 24/7 throughout the festive period
Fiona Richardson is chief officer of Trading Standards Scotland
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