Loan Shark Harassment 101: How to Get Out of Their Grip and Live to Tell the Tale
Let’s face it, living in Singapore is hard- financially. Last year, the capital city has been dubbed as the world’s most expensive city to live in for the fifth year in a row. So, unless you’re a multi-millionaire or sit as head of one of the highest paying jobs in Singapore, like Ecommerce Directors or Manufacturing Directors who earn between $200,000 to $275,000 on average per anum, the high cost of living will take its toll on you.
The Loan Shark Fiasco
Fiasco: a thing that is a complete failure (Merriam-Webster definition). As the term suggests, those who venture into this dangerous enterprise is doomed from the start.
Last year, South China Morning Post reported the rise of harassment cases in Singapore caused by loan sharks as they go digital.
Take Madam Tan (not her real name) for example. She is the sole breadwinner of her family, who juggle three jobs to cope, and ran into unlicensed financiers. Their initial amount started at S$10,000 (US$7,491) in 2002 which skyrocketed to S$400,000 (US$299,654) afterwards.
The Nightmare Began
The harassment started via SMS messages, followed by WhatsApp messages that threatened to burn down her house and kidnap her three kids. The loan sharks adapted into the digital landscape, using social media platforms to target larger groups of people.
Madam Tan borrowed S$20,000 (US$14,981) to S$30,000 (US$22, 472) from a loan shark back in 2013 to repay a huge debt. Her husband lost his job in 2013, which made the situation very difficult. Madam Tan said that her number circulated among the scammers’ circle very fast. She paid them on time and was considered a ‘good payer’, so a lot of them approached her after that.
Soon, the number of loan sharks grew as she borrowed more cash thereafter. She still owed around S$115,000 (US$86,142) to more than 50 unlicensed lenders. They spray-painted her house and harassed her neighbours, telling them that they were made her guarantor. By the time she filed a police report, she had already paid out more than S$400,000 (US$299,625) to them.
Things Turn From Bad to Worse
When borrowers cannot pay on time the intimidation methods get worse. Some of these syndicates attach pictures or video footage of physical harassment via their mobile messages, like locking up or setting fire into people’s homes.
Dealing with Loan Shark Debt
So exactly what do you do to get out of perilous unlicensed debt? Report them to the authorities immediately. This is the only way you can guarantee your safety and security.
The Law Ministry and MOM gave out a list of voluntary welfare organisations for help in managing these debts:
- Adullam Life Counselling: www.adullam.org.sg; 6659 7844
- Arise2Care Community Services: www.arise2care.sg; 6909 0628
- Association of Muslim Professionals: www.amp.org.sg; 6416 3960
- Blessed Grace Social Services: www.bgss.org.sg; 8428 6377
- Centre for Domestic Employees: www.cde.org.sg; 1800 2255 233
- One Hope Centre: www.onehopecentre.org; 6547 1011
Getting Help Before It’s Too Late
For those who haven’t borrowed amounts yet but are tempted to approach illegal moneylenders, there are several avenues to turn to for help. Don’t be ashamed to admit that you fell for a loan shark’s schemes and get yourself out before even corresponding with them again.
In addition to the helplines listed below, you can turn to a licensed money lender for debt consolidation services especially if 40% of your income is going to your repayments.
Credit Counselling Singapore
Get information about debt management, acquire credit counselling and get help to arrange debt repayment schemes.
Registry of Moneylenders
Remember to borrow only what you can return. Make sure you understand the terms and conditions of the contract before borrowing from illegitimate moneylenders. Check the online list of Registered Moneylenders available.
National Council on Problem Gambling
Recognise if you have a gambling problem and seek help for your gambling addiction.
Social assistance schemes are available for low-income Singaporeans and their families. Contact them and find out how to go about it.
The Samaritans of Singapore at 1800-221-4444 (24 Hours Daily)
Anyone who is going through a difficult time and needs counselling can call the agency for help.
Ah Long should never ever be your recourse to get out of debt even if you’ve exhausted all your options. They use coercion, intimidation, blackmail, threats, and even violence to get their cash back, no matter what.
They target the most vulnerable groups, people from low-income families, those earning below S$10,000 a year, to habitual gamblers. They charge ridiculously high-interest rates (as high as 40% per month) according to the Anti-Crime, Drug and Social Development Voluntary Organisation. According to the police, there were cases when borrowers including their families were beaten or their property damaged and/or destroyed. Some victims even committed suicide.
So what’s the best advice to deal with loan sharks? Never deal with them and do the following:
- Never borrow from them because the short term relief is nothing compared to the long term fear and harassment that you and your family will have to endure.
- Never agree to become a guarantor to any illegal loans.
- Never lend your NRIC to anyone else.
- Avoid gambling excessively and seek help and counselling if you have become a compulsive gambler.
Nip it in the bud before it’s too late. Never, under any circumstances deal with loan sharks.