A South Yorkshire dad has told how he was driven to the brink of suicide by loan sharks who threatened to assault his family when he fell thousands of pounds in debt.
The 45-year-old from Mexborough, who asked to remain anonymous, started out borrowing £30 to help put food on the table for his three stepchildren but said that sum quickly snowballed and he ended up owing the illegal money lenders £3,000.
The former RAF man and wagon driver, who had been left unable to work due to lung disease, says he spent years living in fear after heavies turned up at his door and he was threatened with a baseball bat if he failed to pay.
He had been ready to end it all when he finally plucked up the courage to call the Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), who supported him and brought his tormentors to justice.
"I was sat at the kitchen table with a bottle of very strong tablets in one hand and the phone in the other hand, and thankfully I chose to make that call," said the victim, who also has three children of his own.
"I had been threatened with violence towards me and my family, I'd been threatened with a baseball bat and I'd told a brick would be put through my window."
He was first put in touch with the money lenders by a friend in 2012 and borrowed £30 to make ends meet as he was struggling to get by on benefits having been forced to quit work due to his disability.
He would have to pay back double that amount the next week, under the terms of the deal, and he says the lenders started out 'nice as pie'.
But they soon turned nasty when he started missing payments and the money he owed doubled each time.
He lived under their yoke for two years, during which he shelled out around £15,000 - mostly in interest.
"They were taking every penny off us at the end of each week. I was borrowing heavily off family and friends just to pay the interest, and I even went so far as to steal from a local shop to get food," he said.
"Christmas, New Year and birthdays didn't happen, and it's incredibly difficult to tell your children you can't afford to buy them presents."
He had been too afraid of reprisals to report the lenders but as soon as he made that call to the shark hunters at the IMLT, who guarantee anonymity to victims, a weight was lifted from his world.
The loan sharks were prosecuted, he never heard any more from them and he says his life is now better than it's ever been.
"If I met them again I would like to ask how they can prey on the defenceless, like pensioners, people on benefits and young women, and still sleep at night," he said.
"To anyone thinking of turning to a loan shark, I would say stay well away. They're a menace to society.
"If you don't have the money do without, or if you're really struggling seek help from somewhere like the Citizens Advice Bureau."
The victim opened up about his experiences as police targeted loan sharks in Sheffield this week as part of Operation Duxford, executing warrants and arresting suspected offenders.
A spokesman for the IMLT said it had received intelligence about a number of illegal lenders in the city and he urged anyone affected to get in touch.
You can contact the IMLT confidentially on 0300 555 2222 or via its website www.stoploansharks.uk.
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