What is loan sharking?

Understanding Loan Sharking

Understanding the concept of loan sharking is essential to navigating the financial world, particularly for those who may be vulnerable due to a lack of financial literacy or access to traditional credit sources.

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Key Takeaways


Definition and Operation: Loan sharking is the practice of lending money at exorbitantly high interest rates, often with strict repayment terms. Loan sharks typically operate outside the confines of the law, and the funds they lend often come from unidentified sources.

Characteristics and Tactics: Loan sharks do not require credit checks or background investigations, which makes their services appealing to those who can't get loans from traditional financial institutions. However, they aim to gain high levels of interest in a short time and often resort to threats or even violence to ensure repayment.

Global Presence: Loan sharking is a global issue, with notable presence in countries such as Japan, Ireland, Israel, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, and Singapore. These countries have varying degrees of regulations and legal repercussions against the practice.

Comparison with Legal Lenders: Loan sharks are distinct from legal high-interest lenders such as payday loan providers. Although both charge high interest rates, legal lenders operate within the law, require proof of income, and typically adhere to standard collection procedures.

What is loan sharking?

Definition of Loan Sharking

A loan shark is a person or entity that offers loans at extremely high-interest rates, often operates outside the law, and uses strict terms of collection upon failure, including threats of violence.

The History of Loan Sharking

Loan sharking has been a prominent feature of the criminal underworld in the Western world. Historically, many moneylenders skirted between legal and criminal activity, providing loans to individuals who could not get money from banks, legitimate consumer loans, or credit cards.

The Practices of Loan Sharks

Loan sharks often operate within personal or professional networks and in under-banked neighborhoods. Their funds are usually from unidentified sources, and they work for personal businesses or unregistered entities.

Interest Rates and Repayment Terms

These lenders charge interest rates far above any regulated rate, lending large sums of money with the intention of gaining high levels of interest in a short time. For example, a loan shark might lend $10,000 with the provision that $20,000 be repaid within 30 days.

Threats and Violence

Loan sharks often resort to enforcing repayment by blackmail and threats of violence. Business dealings with a loan shark are typically illegal, and it is always better to seek other alternatives.

Loan Sharking vs. Legal Lending Practices

While loan sharking is largely considered illegal, there are some forms of lending that, while legal, bear similarities to loan sharking. However, they operate within the confines of the law and have different practices.

Payday Lenders

Some payday lenders may offer loans at extremely high-interest rates for short periods of time, similar to loan sharks. However, these rates can be completely legal, charging annual interest rates of up to 400%. Unlike loan sharks, payday lenders usually follow standard credit application procedures, request personal information for a credit check, and require proof of employment and income. They do not resort to violence for debt collection but follow standard procedures.

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loan sharking

Other Alternative Lenders

Other alternative lenders have emerged in the credit market to offer individuals and businesses credit alternatives. These lenders offer products comparable to traditional loans, often with lower borrowing standards, making credit more affordable for a greater portion of the population. The loan application procedures are generally similar to standard conventional loans but are usually automated, and lenders are more willing to work with borrowers if conflicts arise. These lenders can offer varying principal amounts and interest rates to a variety of borrowers.

The Impact of Loan Sharking

Loan sharking can have significant impacts on individuals, communities, and the broader economy.

On Individuals and Communities

For individuals, becoming entangled with a loan shark can lead to a cycle of debt that is difficult to escape due to the extremely high-interest rates charged. Repaying the loan can become increasingly difficult, often leading to more borrowing and further debt. This can cause significant stress and anxiety, affecting personal well-being and family relationships.

For communities, the presence of loan sharks can lead to an increase in crime and violence, as these illegal lenders often use intimidation and threats to ensure repayment. This can create an environment of fear and can contribute to social instability.

On the Economy

On a broader scale, loan sharking can distort the economy. The money that is used to pay back the loans and the high interest charged by loan sharks is money that is not being invested in productive activities, such as businesses or education. Additionally, since loan sharking is often associated with illegal activities, it can undermine the rule of law and the integrity of financial systems.

Loan Sharking Around the World

Loan sharking is a global problem, affecting many countries in different ways.

Loan Sharking in Japan

In Japan, where banks are often reluctant to lend money and regulation has become tighter, illegal moneylending has become a social issue. Illegal moneylenders typically charge interest of 30 or 50% in 10 days, which is against the law that sets the maximum interest rate at 20%.

Loan Sharking in Ireland

In Ireland, criticism was levied against the Central Bank of Ireland for failing to protect those with low incomes, the vulnerable, or those who have low levels of financial literacy, from loan sharks. It was revealed in 2015 that up to 100,000 of the 360,000 loans given by moneylenders broke the law.

Loan Sharking in Israel

In Israel, loan sharking is one of the main activities of the Israeli mafia.

Loan Sharking in Kazakhstan

The National Bank of Kazakhstan has been consistently fighting loan sharks since 2018, limiting the maximum interest rate on a loan to no more than 100% of the loan amount. In 2020, a financial market regulation agency was separated from the National Bank of Kazakhstan to monitor the rights and legitimate interests of borrowers, identify and eliminate systemic problems in the financial sector of the economy, and introduce a unified state register of microfinance organizations to legalize lenders.

Loan Sharking in Malaysia and Singapore

In Malaysia and Singapore, illegal loan sharks, colloquially known as "Ah Long", lend money to people who are unable to obtain loans from banks or other legal sources, mostly targeting habitual gamblers. They charge high-interest rates (generally about 40% per month/fortnight).

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Loan sharks

Legal Aspects of Loan Sharking

While the specific laws and regulations regarding loan sharking vary by jurisdiction, it is generally considered illegal due to the extremely high-interest rates charged and the often violent means used to enforce repayment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are examples of loan sharking?

Loan sharking involves lending money at extremely high-interest rates, with strict terms of collection, and usually operating outside the law. For example, a loan shark might lend $10,000 to a person with the provision that $20,000 be repaid within 30 days. The threat of violence is often used to force repayment.

Is loan sharking a crime?

Yes, in many jurisdictions, loan sharking is considered a crime due to its exploitative practices. This includes charging extremely high-interest rates and using threats or violence to collect debts.

Is loan sharking illegal in the US?

Yes, loan sharking is generally illegal in the U.S. Each state has usury laws that limit the amount of interest that can be charged on a loan. Charging interest rates above these legal limits can be considered loan sharking.

What is a loan shark and is it legal?

A loan shark is a person or entity that lends money at extremely high-interest rates, often uses threats of violence to collect debts, and typically operates outside the law. While the legality can vary from one jurisdiction to another, loan sharking is generally considered illegal due to its exploitative practices.

Vlastimil Stich

I'm an investor specializing in dividend growth stocks, and the founder of CashLendy.com. My mission? To make your life a little bit easier, your financial worries a little less daunting. I have a profound understanding of the financial market, and with my passion for investing and finance, I've created a platform that brings simplicity to securing personal loans. No more jumping through hoops or signing documents you barely understand. Don't let the pressure of financial needs hold you back. Experience the relief of secure, simple, and swift loans with CashLendy.com.

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