Criminals have been using social media – from dating sites to local community groups – to find, threaten and control people in debt
Local WhatsApp groups have been one of the silver linings of the pandemic, creating community ties and support networks. Yet loan sharks are increasingly using these groups to extort money from their victims, according to England’s Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), an organisation that prosecutes illegal lenders and supports victims.
Such lenders are also targeting their victims online – the IMLT’s 2020 victim statistics report shows that one in 10 victims met the loan shark via social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook, or through dating websites. Criminals are also creating their own WhatsApp and Facebook groups that appear to be for local communities but are actually ways to maintain control over their victims, according to Tony Quigley, the head of the IMLT. “It looks like a local community group,” he said. “They will say ‘come and join the group’, ‘see what’s going on’. But it has a more sinister side to it.”
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