Why this

Illegal money lending is a crime that targets vulnerable people when they are at their most desperate. Research and evidence show it is yet another example of how paramilitaries and those linked to them try to coerce and control people and communities for their own gain.


Illegal loans are often presented as a quick and easy fix but in reality this is a type of control that can destroy lives and hold back communities. The paramilitary gangs who do this routinely prey on people who are already at their wits end – they want to draw victims into an endless cycle of debt where they alone, decide the terms. Many victims live a life of dread, in constant fear, isolated and facing physical and psychological abuse when they cannot repay what they are told they owe.


This campaign aims to raise awareness about the devastating impact this hidden crime often has on victims and to make sure people and families who are affected know where they can find appropriate help and support. The coercion that comes with illegal money lending means that it is common for victims of this crime to feel that they have no-one to turn to. Support and help is available.

Who are ‘Illegal Lenders’?
Illegal money lenders are ruthless criminals, intent only on personal profit. Most often, they live alongside the people they terrorise. In the guise of providing a ‘service’, they coerce and entice people into borrowing beyond what they need or ask for. They often cruelly target those with vulnerabilities, such as ill-health, addictions or a disability. From day one, their focus is on controlling the borrower. They have no interest in a debt actually being repaid – extracting extortionate interest from their victims is much more rewarding in their eyes. For the victims involved, fear, threat of violence and intimidation are ever present– at their home, at their place of work; or in the community going about their daily life. Evidence shows that there is a strong link between illegal money lenders and paramilitary gangs. Even when they are not overtly representing paramilitaries, lenders are often influenced by them, or use paramilitary connections to threaten and intimidate their victims. This can include coercing them into participating in criminal activity.
Who are the victims?
Illegal money lenders are typically the last resort of those who believe they have nowhere else to go for help. People living on low incomes or on benefits can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation, or those who find themselves needing money to cope with unexpected circumstances, such an illness in the family, for example. For almost all, it is a hidden issue – borrowers are made to feel ashamed and embarrassed about their situation, and reluctant to speak to anyone about it, even when the fear and anxiety becomes overwhelming. Paramilitary gangs know this and use it to their advantage.

Illegal lending is money lending without a licence for personal gain.
Illegal lenders operate outside of the law, so never take a loan from an illegal lender.


Here are some of the key signs to look out for on illegal lenders (NI Direct, 2020):

  • Get a loan on very bad terms
  • Pay a huge rate of interest
  • Be harassed if you get behind with your repayments
  • And be pressured into borrowing more from them to repay one debt with another



Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said: “This campaign highlights the devastating impact that illegal money lenders have, not only on victims, but their families, the local community and wider society.  They have little or no thought about the trail of destruction they create in people’s lives.  They purport to be helping people by offering them loans when they feel they have nowhere else to turn but in reality, they are not doing it for nothing.

“I realise there are obvious difficulties in getting victims of illegal money-lenders to come forward due to fear, but the Police Service of Northern Ireland are far from powerless when it comes to dealing with these people who are exploiting their own communities.


“Our message is simple. Policing works for communities, particularly for those communities that engage and work with police.


“We will continue to target the groups and individuals we suspect are responsible for exploiting the most vulnerable in our community.


“If you are a victim or if you have any information about illegal money lending you can contact police on the non-emergency number 101, or submit a report online using our non-emergency reporting form via www.psni.police.uk/makeareport. You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at crimestoppers-uk.org.


“If you feel you have nowhere to go if you are in debt please know that there is independent advice for you.


“Advice NI, which is an independent charity, offers totally independent, confidential advice to anyone who finds themselves in this situation. You can contact them on 0800 915 4604.


“For more info on how to get help and support, visit the get support section of this website.”

If you would like to find out more about this issue, click the links below. These reports helped us as part of our research into illegal money lending:


Illegal Money Lending and Debt Project: Research Report of Findings

Ulster University, March 2020.

Illegal Lending – The Human Story

Advice NI and The Consumer Council, September 2019.

Christians Against Poverty research into illegal lending in Northern Ireland

CAP, March 2019.

Lending and debt in Northern Ireland

Consumer Council 2018.

Expensive Lending in Northern Ireland – a discussion paper

Centre for Economic Empowerment, 2013.