ILLEGAL moneylenders who are moving online to prey on vulnerable Scots using social media platforms are being targeted in a new campaign to crack down on their activities.

It comes in the form of a charter mark unveiled by the Scottish Illegal Money Lending Unit (Simlu) as part of their campaign to recognise organisations that take a zero-tolerance approach to loan sharks operating in their communities.

The first recipients of the award are housing, care and property management company Wheatley Group and StepChange debt charity.

The Simlu said illegal money lenders are increasingly moving online with platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to target potential victims.

Their counterpart in England has reported that one in five users of loan sharks found information about them on social media in the first half of the year – tactics which are being replicated in Scotland.

They have warned that as more people find themselves in financial trouble due to the coronavirus pandemic, sharks may look to take advantage of the most vulnerable this Christmas.

Loans from illegal lenders can end up costing three times as much as loans from legal providers.

READ MORE: 'Institutional dishonesty': Clydesdale bank court action enters final phase

Charter mark recipients pledge to work in partnership with the Simlu to bolster their reach in communities to increase residents’ confidence and enable them to safely report illegal loan shark activity.

This comes partly through a free, confidential helpline on 0800 074 0878, which will remain open 24/7 throughout the festive period.

The Simlu is part of Trading Standards Scotland and is funded by the Treasury through a Government levy on authorised credit businesses.

Fiona Richardson, chief officer of Trading Standards Scotland, said: “This year, many people may find that they have less money than usual due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. People may also find it more difficult to borrow money – either because their work situation has changed or because lenders are simply lending less.

“We want to stress the dangers of borrowing from unauthorised or informal lenders. It may seem like a quick and easy way to get some money and borrowers may intend to repay the money quickly; however, people can find themselves trapped in a cycle of mounting debt, often with the lender intimidating, harassing and threatening them.”

The Simlu’s partnership and support officer, John Pollock, added: “We need to make sure that there is a zero-tolerance approach to this type of lending and we can only do that by working closely with agencies that provide advice and support on a daily basis. By establishing the Charter Mark we aim to create a network of organisations actively seeking to uncover and tackle illegal lending, but most importantly, that network will help to stop people from ever using loan sharks in the first place.”