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    Dec 09, 2013

    Desperate debtors' tricks

    MOST innocent victims point fingers at loan-shark runners or financially strapped neighbours when paint-splashed doors and chain-locked gates greet them when they get home.

    But they should think again. Their home may have been a pawn in a loan-shark debtor's game.

    For about a year, till early this year, an enrichment centre's office in the north-east was bombarded by calls from runners who loitered outside the office.

    It went on even after the services of a teacher there, the wife of a debtor who sparked the harassment, were terminated in September last year. The husband, desperate to borrow money but wanting to avoid harassment, gave the loan shark the centre's address - with his wife's knowledge.

    One of her colleagues, who did not want to be named, said: "They would call and ask for her at least twice a day. A man even brought a photo of her to ask around."

    Since all eight staff at the centre were women, for safety, they got a male part-timer to stay till the end of the day and lock up the centre.

    They made a police report and, eventually, the harassment stopped.

    Experts said that such cases where debtors furnish loan sharks with bogus addresses are uncommon, but that one victim is one victim too many.

    Loan sharks typically ask debtors for the official addresses on their ICs, but in some cases they may settle for office addresses.

    They believe that harassment conducted there may pressure debtors to return money for fear of losing their job, according to those in the moneylending business.

    While runners may be arrested for harassment, those who provide false addresses may also be courting trouble.

    Any person who is guilty of providing false contact information to obtain loans from loan sharks may be jailed up to a year.

    In other cases, people who have sold their houses do not officially change their addresses, and provide the old addresses to loan sharks. So, when runners come a-knocking, it is to the wrong people.

    Property agent Nur Muhammad Hafeez said he came across such a case in July this year.

    He said: "I was the seller's agent, and I sold his five-room flat. But after the transaction was completed, the buyer's agent told me the new occupants were being harassed by loan-shark runners."

    He then provided the seller's contact details to the agent and a police report was lodged.

    He suggested that buyers look out for thick layers of paint on the doors of their potential purchase, as this could be a sign that the door has been repainted after loan-shark activity. Neighbours could also be consulted on the history of its occupants.

    But not updating addresses may not be the smartest idea. It is an offence under the National Registration Act, and carries a fine of up to $5,000, up to five years in jail, or both.

    Overall, however, the number of loan-shark harassment cases has been on the decline.

    Police figures show that there was a 14 per cent decrease from January to September this year, compared to the same period last year.