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Last June 6, a 19-year-old was apprehended along Woodlands Avenue 2 after he was reportedly involved with splashing paint and creating loan shark related graffiti on a residence at Tampines Street 45. Aside from the said case, the youth is also suspected to be involved in similar activities in Bedok and Bishan.
On June 2, it has been reported that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers, together with 6 other police divisions, stormed various locations across Singapore and arrested 104 suspects (18 to 72 years of age) for getting involved in loan sharking activities.
Upon preliminary investigations, it has been discovered that four are runners who carried out ATM transfers and secured ATM cards for loan sharks, three were revealed to be harassers who vandalized walls and splashed paints on private properties and one suspect provided a different home address when getting a loan from an unregistered moneylender. The rest are believed to have opened bank accounts and gave the ATM cards and PIN codes to loans sharks to facilitate the illegal moneylending business.
Another recent story of loan shark harassment was reported later in November last year when a Singaporean man shared his dilemma of owing $13,000 from a loan shark. In desperate need of cash, he borrowed $700 from an illegal moneylender, however after failing to pay for a week; his loan interest grew, making a full blown debt out of it. He shared that he regretted waiting too long to ask for help, and his whole family has been drastically affected since loan sharks begun to knock on his door. The experience traumatized his youngest daughter for months.
Ah Long San, the Infamous Shark
For many years, Singapore has been battling loan sharks who take advantage of the people’s needs, posing as a quick help when in truth they aim to milk all the money they could get from the borrower. Illegal moneylending has been a serious problem especially during the 1990’s when Chua Tiong Tiong , more commonly known as Ah Long San, was still at large.
Ah Long San, the infamous loan shark king of the 90’s multi-million illegal moneylending syndicate, was known for being one of the most feared and slippery criminal in Singapore’s history. He was able to dodge arrests by bribing nine police officers and those who have information of his whereabouts have kept themselves mum for fear of their loved one’s safety.
According to The New Paper, Ah Long San would use the ‘profit-sharing scheme’ for his illegal moneylending business. He will loan $50,000 to his senior assistants who in turn will loan them to needy Singaporeans. It is the senior assistants’ responsibility to collect the money with ceiling interest. They can pocket half of the amount collected, yet if they can’t pay to deliver the boss’ money they will be the ones in trouble, thus they have to do any illegal means, including illegal measures, to get the money.
Loan sharks usually charge 20% of interest to their loans. When a borrower asks for a $1,000 loan, the lender will only give $800 and keep the $200 as interest. If the borrower pays $600 for the next week, the loan is still unpaid and the lender will count the payment as only $400 and pocket the $200 as interest. This way the borrowers end up paying 100% interest. If the borrower could not keep up with the payments, the debt will just keep on increasing. If they could not pay anymore then they might decide to turn into a runner, or they might end up as the loan sharks’ pawns.
Tactics to Cover their Tracks
Since illegal money lending is a serious matter for the police, debtors use various ways to cover their tracks, usually by using their own borrowers.
- Lenders only use the prepaid mobile numbers registered to their borrowers’ names. This way they will be hard to track. If the police try to trace the owner of the mobile number, they will only end up with another borrower.
- Debtors are ordered to open banks accounts, they hand the ATM card and access code to the lender. This way the loan sharks can make anonymous withdrawals and the track will only lead back to the debtor.
- If debtors have no other way to pay, lenders convince them to gamble outside the country or in ships. If the debtors loss, they will only get more debts to pay, and the lenders won’t have their names on anything.
The Danger in Social Media
Nowadays, people tend to be negligent on putting their personal information online. Illegal moneylending syndicates use information on your social media accounts to get personal data and other information that they can use to black mail you. It is better to be wary when posing anything on the web than regret later on.
Also secure your social media accounts with passwords and other security features offered in the social media apps, this way your accounts won’t be easily hacked.
Illegal Moneylending Scam Schemes
- Phone Calls
Loan sharks use abusive language when making a call, and they could be using another debtor’s number. They will threaten you and make you pay for a loan that you did not even take. Usually they will threaten your love ones and will keep on communicating via calls and SMS. They might even scare you to deposit money in their bank accounts.
If you have previous or existing loans with other loan sharks, some loan sharks will take advantage of it and will threaten you that they will leak this information to the police. People who are usually victimized under this scam are scared to get help from authorities for fear of embarrassment.
It is illegal to keep another person’s SingPass. Even legal moneylenders are prohibited to do this. If a scammer gets your SingPass they can easily get your personal information including your financial data. They can fake your identity and use it for other illegal transactions or get loans from other moneylenders and you will end up paying for loans you did not use.
- Letters and Harassments
Some loan sharks will use letters to threaten their victims. They will keep on sending letters though you might have not even borrowed anything from them. If by chance that they can’t get in touch with you, they will even paste the letter on your door for passersby to see and since Singaporeans value their reputation, embarrassment is unthinkable. Sometimes loan sharks even lock the debtors inside their homes with the use of bicycle locks. Other set fences and gates on fire.
- Facebook and other Social Media
And harassments don’t just stop at the victim’s door step. They are now using Facebook and other social media platforms to harass their victims for all in the web to see. They will even send friend request to the family and friends to tell them about the debtor’s loan.
Debtors Turned into Runners
These loan sharks thrive on fear, emotional stress and humiliation. No matter what happens, despite the enormous need for quick cash or fearful threats they use, never succumb to loan sharks, as they only bring spiraling debt. If trapped, the Singaporeans who could not get out of the loan sharks’ grip turn into runners.
Unfortunately there is a number of loan shark victims who get involve with the illegal moneylending business to repay their loans. However, despite the pitiful state of the victims and their desperate situation, the court is firm to implement the Moneylenders Act, or else the cycle of exploitation will never end.
The runners who harass other debtors in exchange for their unpaid loans should know how stressful and fearful it is to be hounded by loan sharks. Despite of diverse situations, there should not be enough reasons for a person to harass another person and make them feel the same helplessness they endured first hand. In the first place doing business with an unlicensed money lender already violated the Moneylenders Act.
For those who demand or collect money, opens a bank account, provides a prepaid SIM card, keeps business records, provides collected personal information of another person, participates in banking transactions, and lets owned premises used for or by a loan shark, they are subjected with imprisonment not exceeding 4 years and a fine of not less than $30,000 and not more than $300,000 with 6 strokes of cane.
For the second offence, the convicted has to be imprisoned for not more than 7 years and pay a fine not less than $30,000 and not more than $300,000 with 12 strokes of cane.
Those who are found guilty of harassing a person, either attempted or committed in behalf of a loan shark will be imprisoned for no more than 5 years, and has to pay a fine of not less than $5,000 and not more than $50,000, and has to receive not less than 3 and not more than 6 strokes of cane.
Time to Step Up
The serious problem on Ah Longs (illegal moneylenders) has been battled quite some time now, with this reason the regulations in money lending has been more uptight. The campaigns against ah longs is still at its heights, promoting the use of legal moneylenders with flexible loans instead of loan sharks.
At Cash Mart has always been supportive of various campaigns and movements against loan sharks. We have always been creating flexible loans with terms personalized for each client, and our staff practice professionalism at all times. The team behind Cash Mart never stops in finding ways to cater products available for Singaporeans and foreigners in Singapore from all walks of life.
If you have any information on any ah long related activities or person, we encourage you to call 1800-X-AH-LONG or 1800-9-24-5664, the Police Emergency Hotline (999) or get in touch with the Registry of Moneylenders at telephone number: 1800-2255-529 or at its e-mail address: OneMinLaw@mlaw.gov.sg and rest assured your identity will be kept anonymous.
If you know someone who is currently in the grip of a loan shark, please help them by reaching on the X-Ah-Long Hotline. It is time to work together and put a stop on the terror brought by loan sharks in the lives of our fellow Singaporeans.
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