Rather than spending his retirement relaxing or taking up a niche hobby, Nigel currently spends part of his day tracking retirees.
The former police officer was just 49 years old when he retired. Feeling “too young to do nothing”, he went to work as an investigator for loan sharks.
But he never could have imagined that his new job would include hunting down illegal loan sharks in their eighties.
He is a member of Stop Loan Sharks Wales (SLSW), a small unit targeting illicit moneylenders.
And while most loan sharks are single-minded in their harassment and intimidation of anyone who owes them money, not all of them fit the ‘Phil Mitchell’ stereotype.
In a recent case, an 80-year-old woman was admonished by the police after discovering that she had been making illegal loans.
She used her son – who was in his 40s and had previously been in prison – to help threaten people into paying.
“But because of her age and the amount involved, she only got a warning,” says Ryan, the unit’s customer liaison officer. The money involved totaled several thousand pounds.
“As far as we could prove, she was only lending to one individual,” adds Ryan, calling it a “vicious, opportunistic target.”
Another 80-year-old woman, currently under investigation by the unit, started taking out personal loans but soon became threatening when people were unable to repay her.
“She was scaring (the victims) with ‘I know where you are, I know where you live,'” says Nigel.
His case is ongoing and has not yet reached the courts, so few details can be provided by SLSW.
‘A tsunami is coming’
Moneylenders, of all ages, are nothing new, but there are fears that they are cashing in on the misery caused by the ongoing economic crisis.
But a delay in the courts, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a delay in investigations mean the full effects of the cost of living crisis are yet to be seen.
“There could be a bit of a tsunami coming,” warns Nigel.
Ryan says it’s “quite unusual” to see illegal creditors in their eighties. “Most people are of working age, but it’s a 50-50 split between men and women,” she adds.
Who are loan sharks?
They often hide in plain sight and are well known in their local communities.
Nigel and Ryan spoke to Sky News on the condition of anonymity, in part because of the threats the team faces in their work.
They never work in the same area where they live, but after one of their colleagues was accidentally spotted by a loan shark, their car was broken down and protection had to be put in place.
New research commissioned by his unit alongside the Welsh government confirms fears that current financial difficulties could drive more people in Wales to borrow from illegal lenders.
Some 38% say they are more likely to need to borrow money or credit this year to cover everyday costs, and 50% of those who borrow do so to finance everyday expenses – from food and bills to school uniforms.
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Founded 15 years ago, SLSW is a government-funded agency that works closely with – but is wholly separate from – police, local authorities, charities and other agencies.
Most of the unit’s employees are former police officers.
‘Preparing’ their victims
Illegal moneylenders, says Nigel, often create a friendly relationship and lure people in by letting them pay the first payment.
But then, Nigel says, it often gets to a point where they can’t pay you back.
The relationship is “quite engaging,” adds Ryan, who works closely with victims in his role, drawing comparisons to drug dealers or domestic violence: “People are always walking on eggshells, they’re trained to act a certain way.” .
He says: “You also find that people pay different amounts. If you’re not easy to intimidate, they’ll still lend to you, just on more favorable terms.
“But the more vulnerable you are, the worse the penalties.”
See more information:
‘I was suicidal’: moneylenders impersonate friends to arrest victims in cost of living crisis
Individual investigations into the illicit world of illegal money lending can take anywhere from a month to several years.
“We might not even have a victim in the first instance, we might just have the intelligence,” says Nigel.
The Wales unit currently has 11 live cases, with the oldest dating back to February 2020. In some years, they could close as many as eight investigations.
And these loan sharks aren’t hiding in the depths of the dark web – they’re people well known in their local communities.
Living on £5 a week
In one case, a moneylender in north Wales would pick up his victims just before midnight and take them to an ATM just as their benefits were deposited into their account.
They would take the money, giving the victim just an allowance to live on – in one case just £5 a week – and keep the rest of the money, including the bank card.
In another, a stove, refrigerator and microwave were taken from the home of a victim who was late paying.
the maximum sentence
The maximum prison sentence for a loan shark, if successfully convicted, is two years. According to Nigel, investigators often look to augment this by adding associated crimes to the charge sheet, such as actual bodily harm and sexual assault.
The highest sentence Nigel’s unit has achieved is three and a half years, which was handed down by Robert Sparey, 60, of Caerphilly, in 2017. Sparey, who has not worked since 1990, has been targeting vulnerable people for more than 20 years. years and used a disabled family member as a “front” for his operation.
He threatened to burn down a woman’s house with her children inside if she didn’t pay, and told another he would find “oppressive” people to collect debts.
Similarly, the unit served on the lawsuit of Chris Harvey, a father of 21 children, for three years and four months in 2015. Harvey, who was also from Caerphilly, charged his own family up to 400,000% interest on illegal loans.
£40k unexplained cash
Among the unit’s most recent successes is the arrest of Clayton Rumbelow of Llanelli, who was jailed for 10 months for illegally lending money in October 2022.
Despite being on benefits and having no other legitimate source of income, Rumbelow spent tens of thousands of pounds on holidays over the course of two years. He bought expensive cars and even decorated his home with statues of intimidating animals.
“When I looked into their bank accounts I found £40,000 in unexplained cash deposits,” says Nigel.
Some people don’t realize they are being exploited or even feel grateful to the lender for helping them.
One victim told Nigel, “I don’t know what I would have done without him. I couldn’t get money anywhere else and I couldn’t feed my children.”
People are also often led to believe that their loan shark debts are legally enforceable. In Porthcawl, a porter working as a moneylender drew up contracts for his clients.
“When you really looked at the contracts themselves, it looked like they came from somewhere legally enforceable,” says Nigel.
“People signed these contracts to buy groceries and believed he was a legal moneylender. But he wasn’t, and these people were desperate and would agree to anything.”
What can you do if you are in debt to a loan shark?
If someone who lent you money threatens you or is violent, contact the police immediately – even if it’s an informal loan from someone you know.
Not all loans need to be authorized by the Financial Conduct Authority – for example, informal, one-off loans between friends or family are not illegal. If you are unsure whether a loan needs to be authorized by the FCA, ask your nearest Citizens Advice for help.
In England, if you believe a moneylender is operating without being authorized by the FCA, you can speak confidentially to the Illegal Money Lending Hotline on 0300 555 2222. You can also email the Lending Team Illegal Money at email@example.com or text loan shark and message him to 60003.
In Scotland, you can speak confidentially to the Trading Standards Scotland national team to report an illegal money lender on 0800 074 0878, or report it online to them at www.tsscot.co.uk.
In Wales, you can report concerns about a moneylender to the Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit, which operates a confidential 24-hour helpline on: 0300 123 33 11.
In Northern Ireland you can contact Trading Standards Consumerline on 0300 123 6262.
Credit unions also provide a legal alternative to illegally borrowing money for people of all income levels. They also promote manageable ways to save money.
You can learn more about credit unions here.