A simple text message, sent at the right moment, is often all it takes for unlicensed moneylenders to land their prey.
Mdm Low (not her real name) was already at her wit’s end. A series of poor family decisions had landed her in debt. “I needed money to repay the banks,” recalled Mdm Low, who’s in her early 40s. “They had already issued seizures twice before, and had emptied my house. I told myself I’d never let it happen a third time.”
So, when Mdm Low received an SMS message in 2013 advertising moneylending services, she decided to go for it.
Dealing with Sharks
“The moneylenders listed their company name and handphone numbers,” said Mdm Low. “I did a search on the Internet and thought at first that they were legally licensed operators. The money came in very fast.”
Though she had settled her debt with the banks, Mdm Low found herself in even deeper trouble. Without giving it much thought, she provided the unlicensed moneylenders with personal information like her IC number, SingPass account, work address, details of family members, and even her children’s schools.
It wasn’t until weeks later that Mdm Low realised she’d been dealing with unlicensed moneylenders. “When I couldn’t pay them on time, their tone became very harsh, and they scolded me on SMS and WhatsApp,” she said. “They also started to threaten my family, and I was very scared.”
Soon, Mdm Low started receiving multiple solicitations from other unlicensed moneylenders. Feeling desperate, she began to borrow from one unlicensed moneylender to repay her debt to another.
“My number circulated among these unlicensed moneylenders very fast because I paid them promptly, so to them, I was a good ‘payer’,” she said. “Many approached me, and the interests were exorbitant so I continued to pay up. If not, they’d send me threatening messages.”
Deeper in Debt
PHOTO: Singapore Police Force
Mdm Low ended up taking loans from over 50 unlicensed moneylenders, and what started out as a $20,000 loan in 2013 quickly snowballed into repayments amounting to $400,000.
Interest rates and borrowing terms would change on a whim. “They’d say that the man who offered the loan to me had had an accident, so I had to pay weekly instead of monthly,” she said.
As Mdm Low fell behind in her payments, the threats grew. “The final straw came when I received a very harsh WhatsApp message from one lender,” she recalled, her voice shaking. “He cursed me and even threatened to kidnap my children. He also sprayed-paint my flat, harassed my neighbours and sent me videos of front doors burning. That was when I told myself I wasn’t going to pay them anymore.”
Tough Action Against Unlicensed Moneylenders
Enforcement by the Singapore Police Force (SPF)
has helped to curb physical harassment of victims by unlicensed moneylenders; in 2017, there was a 5.8% increase in the number of unlicensed moneylending arrests compared to 2016.
Now, SPF officers are embarking on a new dimension to their enforcement efforts. Noting that unlicensed moneylenders have been using electronic means to harass victims, the SPF is collaborating with stakeholders such as the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA)
to shut down such activities.
Say No to Loansharks
GRAPHIC: Singapore Police Force
“Unlicensed moneylenders thrive on fear,” said Superintendent (SUPT) Han Teck Kwong, head of the SPF’s Unlicensed Moneylending Strikeforce. “To compel their victims to pay up, they’ll try any means including sending pictures and video clips of physical harassment or threatening to involve their victims’ families and employers. We’re now working with different agencies to detect and prevent technology from being used by these criminals.”
Having broken her ties to the unlicensed moneylenders, Mdm Low is now working three jobs to pay off loans from her friends and colleagues. “It’s hard for me to face them, and my children,” she said. “Now, I try to teach my kids to be frugal and to spend wisely.”
And she has these words of advice for those tempted to take the quick cash offered by unlicensed moneylenders: “Seek help from the right people and agencies. Don’t go to the unlicensed moneylenders; the pain, agony and fear aren’t worth it.”
When Unlicensed Moneylenders Approach You…
If you receive SMSes or WhatsApp messages from unlicensed moneylenders:
• Don’t reply to or interact with them.
• Report the number as spam and block the number using readily available spam filter applications.
• Notify the Police via i-Witness or report loansharking activities anonymously through the X-Ah-Long Hotline at 1800-924-5664.