Loan sharks getting more brazen and tech savvy
Loan shark syndicates have been hounding potential customers using database of mobile phone numbers
Loan sharks are getting more brazen and sophisticated in their tactics, even as the number of harassment reports against them has jumped.
A Straits Times investigation has shown just how skilled these unlicensed moneylenders now are with new communications technology.
Loan shark syndicates have been acquiring a database of mobile phone numbers and hounding potential customers.
Some are being bombarded with SMS or WhatsApp messages, sometimes up to three times a day, with some people even receiving cold calls.
The messages offer the usual loan shark come-ons - "100 per cent real lender" and "fast easy approval" repayment options.
The Straits Times scrutinised three WhatsApp messages and spoke to three of the senders.
One admitted getting phone numbers from his "boss", supposedly a licensed moneylender. The man, who calls himself Jack, said: "We do not know who the person (the recipient of the WhatsApp message) is."
But Jack's claim must be taken with a pinch of salt, said Mr Peter Tan, president of the Moneylender's Association of Singapore. He said loan sharks like to be linked to legal moneylending businesses as it makes them appear legitimate.
He said: "They have become brazen. Now they even resort to... talking to you directly."
Licensed moneylenders are not allowed to solicit customers via phone calls or text messaging, added Mr Tan, who believes that someone must be leaking databases of contact numbers to loan sharks.
Jack said: "We do not meet in person. We will check your details online. After we check, we will see how much we can lend you."
Ron, another loan shark that The Straits Times communicated with, even asked for this reporter's SingPass password.
He said this is so that he can "log in for 10 minutes to verify your profile".
You risk divulging sensitive details such as CPF statements or government transactions when you give an unlicensed moneylender your SingPass password.
Ron also provides 4-D, football and online casino betting.
These loan sharks offer money transfers within 15 to 30 minutes. They levy interest rates of between 10 per cent and 20 per cent, considerably more than that of legitimate moneylenders. The rate will increase sharply if a borrower defaults on repayments.
There were 3,806 reported cases of unlicensed moneylending and harassment last year, a 12.3 per cent increase from the 3,388 cases in 2016. Police said 1,474 people were arrested last year, compared to 1,393 in 2016, a rise of 5.8 per cent.
The Personal Data Protection Commission advises the public not to reply to text messages or return calls to unknown numbers as they "are likely to be associated with unlicensed moneylending and illegal gambling activities". It recommends lodging a police report or calling the National Crime Prevention Council at 1800-924-5664 (1800-X-AH-LONG).