Crackdown on loan sharks: Loan sharks, their runners once caught to be hanged

Pity. I'm just kidding. I do wish to see such a stiff punishment, though. That kind of punishment will definitely deter loan sharks' activities, won't it?

The problem with illegal money-lending is, well, it is not legal. Thus, their lender has no legal venue to claim back their money, except by intimidation.

I wonder how the situation will be if loan shark is NOT illegal. Heh.

Stiff measures to combat loan sharks and their assistants are set to be introduced when Parliament sits on Monday.

These are to be spelt out in amendments to the Moneylenders Act, with an eye on penetrating loan shark syndicates to stop their unrelenting and ruthless methods in getting borrowers to pay up.

This loan shark problem was raised in Parliament in August, when MPs like Madam Cynthia Phua (Aljunied GRC) noted a rise in their terrorising ways.

She said harassment incidents in her ward had risen from one every four months to one every fortnight.

Nationally, too, the figures have gone up. In the first half of this year, the number of loan sharking and harassment reports went up to 9,395, from 4,759 in the same period last year.

Senior Minister of State (Law and Home Affairs) Ho Peng Kee told Parliament then that advances in communications technology and money-transfer methods had led to loan shark syndicates becoming larger and more sophisticated.

From Straits Times, "Crackdown on loan sharks".

Update on 23/11: more updates on crackdown on loansharks.

Parliament has introduced amendments to the Moneylenders Bill aimed at coming down harder on those involved in loan-sharking activities.

Among the changes are going beyond the frontline to target financiers and masterminds.

From January to September this year, loansharks left their ugly mark in 13,771 cases, far exceeding the 11,789 cases reported for the whole of last year.

And with advances in technology, authorities said loanshark syndicates are now more like organised criminal groups. Kingpins rarely expose themselves and lower-rung members are easily replaced.

To target the top guns, changes to the Moneylenders Bill will include empowering the Home Affairs Minister to freeze property and funds related to loansharking activities.

But to ensure that family members are not unduly hit, the law will also provide for family members in financial hardship to have access to the frozen bank account.

Authorities will also criminalise acts that contribute to loansharking activities. These include selling prepaid SIM cards to loansharks, ferrying runners or simply referring someone to an illegal moneylender.

And because more youths are involved in harassment, it may soon be a criminal offence to use minors under 16 for loansharking activities. Under the current law, it is already a criminal offence to engage anyone above the age of 16 for loanshark related activities.

136 youths were arrested for loanshark and related harassment activities between October last year and September this year. This compared to just 63 youths nabbed for the whole of 2008.

But some said those in their 20s and early 30s should also be targeted. Wong Kee Soon, a church counsellor, said: "They are lazy and they don't want to work. So they want easy money and normally they have experience.

"In the past, when they are youths, they can be in so-called street gangs. So they have accumulated some experience on how to control or how to threaten the youth. In order to control the youth, they will recommend the youth to work for the loansharks."

To prevent innocent victims from being harassed, the bill will also allow the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to have access to the Housing and Development Board's database.

This will allow authorities to track those who borrow and then move out while still holding on to their old home address.

Other proposed changes include tougher penalties for those involved in loansharking activities and those who help loansharks. For example, it may soon be mandatory for first time offenders to face a jail term and caning.

There are also plans to provide immunity for accused persons who help authorities, leading to successful convictions of loansharks.

Subhas Anandan, president, Association of Criminal Lawyers, said: "The message is very clear that we will not tolerate the activities. The law is going to be very tough on you. The authorities mean business. So if I'm a loanshark, I think I will think twice, three times before doing something like that."

Mr Subhas added another deterrent would be to prosecute borrowers, something which authorities are already considering. The issue is in ensuring those genuinely in need of financial help are not unfairly prosecuted.

Mr Subhas said: "There are some who will just borrow money to gamble or to buy drugs. These people should be prosecuted. So when you find that people who borrow money are also prosecuted, people are scared to borrow from the loansharks. So what happens is when you don't have people borrowing, you can't do the business."

Authorities have also found that a lot of the loansharking activities in Singapore is a result of gambling. This is going to be a more challenging situation with casinos coming on board.

Authorities are monitoring the situation and are already ramping up efforts to work with the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Parliament is expected to debate the bill at its next sitting.

From Channel NewsAsia, "Proposed changes to Moneylenders Bill to enhance penalties for loansharking".

Update on 24/11: penalties for loansharking & harassing debtors to increase. That also includes the annoying runners!

Sweeping new laws that target loanshark syndicate bosses, runners and even borrowers have been proposed to deal with the burgeoning illegal moneylending problem.

Under the Moneylenders (Amendment) Bill introduced in Parliament on Monday, penalties for loansharking and harassing debtors have also been increased.

For example, first-time loan sharks will be jailed up to four years and fined the minimum $30,000.

Those who harass debtors and cause damage to property by setting shoe racks on fire, for instance, will be caned at least three strokes.

Repeat offenders will be caned up to 10 strokes. Currently, the maximum they face is six strokes of the rotan.

Borrowers may also be brought to court if they give false addresses that lead to innocent people being harassed by loansharks.

From Straits Times, "Stiffer laws on loan sharks".

The proposed changes to the law governing moneylending left no ambiguity as to what the authorities see as assistance to loan sharks.

Those who help loan sharks go about their business - from acting as lookouts to ferrying runners around - will also be liable to the same harsh penalties.

Such activities - including allowing one's premises to be used for illegal moneylending business to even providing telephone SIM cards to loan sharks - will be clearly spelt out under the amended law.

The crackdown on anyone who contributes to loan sharking activities is to target the many layers in a loan sharking syndicate, said the Home Affairs Ministry.

And because loan sharks have become more indiscriminate in their activities to intimidate debtors into paying up, new laws will be introduced to protect innocent households from being harassed.

So those who give loan sharks false contact details when borrowing, resulting in the harassment of innocent people, will also be targeted under the proposed changes.

From Straits Times, "Loan shark helpers beware".


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