Instead of spending his retirement relaxing or taking up a niche hobby, Nigel currently spends part of his day looking for pensioners.
The former policeman was only 49 when he retired. Feeling that he was “too young to do anything”, he went to work as a loan shark.
But he could never have imagined that his new job would involve hunting down loan sharks in their eighties.
He is a member of Stop Loan Sharks Wales (SLSW), a small unit targeting illegal loan sharks.
And while most loan sharks persist in harassing and intimidating anyone who owes them money, not all of them fit the ‘Phil Mitchell’ stereotype.
In a recent case, an elderly woman in her 80s was cautioned by the police after she was found to be making illegal loans.
She had used her son – who was in his 40s and had previously been to prison – to help people pay.
“But because of her age and the amount involved, she was only given a warning,” says Ryan, a customer liaison officer with the unit. The money involved totals several thousand pounds.
“As far as we could prove he was only lending to one person,” Ryan adds, calling it “vicious, opportunistic targeting.”
Another woman in her 80s, currently under investigation by the unit, started making personal loans but quickly became threatening when people couldn’t repay her.
“He was afraid [victims] with “I know where you are, I know where you live,” says Nigel.
Her case is ongoing and has yet to go to court, so there are few details SLSW can provide.
“Tsunami is coming”
Moneylenders, of all ages, are nothing new, but there are fears they are profiting from the misery brought on by the ongoing financial crisis.
However, a backlog in the courts, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a time lag with investigations means the full impact of the cost of living crisis is yet to be seen.
“There could be a bit of a tsunami,” warns Nigel.
Ryan says it’s “quite unusual” to see loan sharks in their eighties. “Most people are of working age, but it’s a 50-50 split between men and women,” he 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 condition of anonymity, partly because of the threats the team face doing their job.
They never work in the same area where they live, but after one of his colleagues was accidentally tracked down by a loan shark, their car broke down and had to be protected.
New research commissioned by their unit along with the Welsh Government confirms fears that the current financial difficulties could lead to more people in Wales borrowing from illegal lenders.
Some 38% say they are more likely to need to borrow money or credit this year to cover day-to-day expenses, and 50% of those who borrow are doing so to finance everyday living expenses – from food and bills to school uniforms.
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Established 15 years ago, SLSW is a government-funded agency that works alongside – but is completely separate from – the police, local authorities, charities and other agencies.
Most of the unit’s employees are former police officers.
By “beating” their victims
Illegal moneylenders, says Nigel, often create a friendly relationship and trick people into letting them repay the first payment.
But then, says Nigel, it often gets to the stage where they can’t repay it.
The relationship is “quite manicured,” adds Ryan, who works closely with victims in his role, drawing comparisons to drug dealers or domestic abuse: “People always step on eggshells, they’re trained to act a certain way.”
He says: “You also find that people pay different amounts. If you are not easy to intimidate, they will lend to you, just on more favorable terms.
“But the more vulnerable you are, the worse the penalties.”
‘I killed myself’: Loan sharks pose as friends to lure victims into cost-of-living crisis
Individual investigations into the illegal world of illegal moneylending can last from a month to several years.
“We might not even have a victim in the first case, we might just have the intelligence,” says Nigel.
The Welsh unit currently has 11 live cases, with the oldest dating back to February 2020. In some years, up to eight inquiries may be closed.
And these loan sharks aren’t hidden in the depths of the dark web – these are people known in their local communities.
Living on £5 a week
In one case, a loan shark in North Wales picked up his victims just before midnight and drove them to a till just as their benefits were being deposited into their account.
They would take the money, giving their victim a simple allowance to live on – in one case, as little as £5 a week – and keep the rest of the money, including the bank card.
In another, a stove, refrigerator and microwave were taken from a victim’s home when they fell behind on payments.
The maximum penalty
The maximum prison sentence for a loan shark, if successfully convicted, is two years. According to Nigel, investigators will often try to increase this by adding related crimes to the charge sheet, such as actual bodily harm and sexual assault.
The highest sentence achieved by Nigel’s unit is three-and-a-half years, which was handed down to Robert Sparey, 60, from Caerphilly, in 2017. Sparey, who had not worked since 1990, targeted vulnerable people for more than 20 years and used a disabled family member as a “front” for his operation.
He threatened to burn down one woman’s house with her children inside if she didn’t pay, and told another he would find “heavy hands” to enforce the debts.
Similarly, the unit was active in prosecuting father-of-21 Chris Harvey for three years and four months in 2015. Harvey, who was also from Caerphilly, charged his family up to 400,000% interest on illegal loans.
£40k in unexplained cash
Among the unit’s most recent successes is the arrest of Clayton Rumbelow from Llanelli, who was jailed for 10 months for illegal moneylending in October 2022.
Despite receiving benefits and having no other legitimate source of income, Rumbelow spent tens of thousands of pounds on holidays over two years. He bought expensive cars and even decorated his house with scary animal statues.
“When I went through his bank accounts I found £40,000 worth of unexplained cash deposits,” says Nigel.
Some people don’t realize they are being taken advantage of or even feel grateful to the lender for helping them.
One victim told Nigel: “I don’t know what I’d do without him. I couldn’t get money from anywhere else and I couldn’t feed my children.”
People are often led to believe that their debts are legally enforceable. In Porthcawl, a doorman who moonlighted as a loan shark wrote contracts for his clients.
“When you actually looked at the contracts themselves, they looked like they came from somewhere legally enforceable,” says Nigel.
“People were signing these contracts to buy groceries and they thought it was a legitimate lender. But it wasn’t, and these people were desperate and would agree to anything.”
What can you do if you owe money to a loan shark?
If someone who has lent you money is threatening or violent, contact the police immediately – even if it’s an informal loan from someone you know.
Not all loans need to be approved by the Financial Conduct Authority – for example, informal, one-off loans between friends or family are not against the law. If you are unsure whether a loan needs to be approved by the FCA, get help from your nearest Citizens Advice.
In England, if you believe a moneylender is operating without being authorized by the FCA, you can speak in confidence to the Illegal Moneylending Competition Line on 0300 555 2222. You can also email the Illegal Moneylending Team at reportaloanshark@stoploansharks. gov.uk or text loan shark and your message to 60003.
In Scotland, you can speak to the national Trading Standards Scotland team in confidence to report an illegal moneylender on 0800 074 0878 or report online at www.tsscot.co.uk.
In Wales, you can report concerns about a money lender to the Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit, which operates a 24-hour confidential 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 illegal money lending for people of all income levels. They also promote manageable ways to save money.
You can learn more about credit unions here.