The Singapore Police Force has arrested 90 people in connection with unlicensed moneylending activities. The suspects consisted of 61 men and 29 women over a period of three days.
During simultaneous raids, six separate police divisions in conjunction with the Criminal Investigation Department carried out the arrests.
The bulk of the 90 arrestees allegedly opened bank accounts to help loan sharks with their illegal moneylending activities. Investigators suspect at least one of those detained was a runner for the loan sharks and transferred funds from ATM machines.
Investigations into all of those arrested are still underway.
The country’s Moneylenders’ Act states that a person whose ATM card is utilized to facilitate moneylending is presumed to be aiding unlicensed moneylenders. If found guilty, first time offenders will be required to pay a penalty ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. The sentece may also include caning and a jail term of up to five years.
Unlicensed moneylenders face even harsher penalties. First-time offenders will be fined between $30,000 and $300,000. They may also serve up to four years in prison. Up to six strokes of the cane may also be prescribed.
Not the First
This is just the latest in a series of arrests. In 2016 alone, there have been several other raids including multiple arrests.
In February, authorities arrested two men for alleged unlicensed moneylending. One is suspected of extending loans to multiple debtors while the other is accused of harassment, including the drawing of moneylending related graffiti on the debtor’s apartment. In the last weeks of February, police arrested a total of 125 people for similar offenses.
In March, authorities arrested three people for illegal moneylending activities. Investigators found that two of the four were debtors turned runners. A debtor-turned-runner is a person that pays off their debts by working for loan sharks. Later in the month, the police arrested an additional 118 people for loan sharking-related offenses, consisting of 39 women and 79 men.
In May, the police arrested 15 people for allegedly assisting unlicensed moneylenders in a two-day operation.
In June, two major police operations led to the arrest of more than 117 people for more loan sharking offenses. The youngest of these suspects was only 18 years old.
Statistics from the Singapore Police Force showed that for the entire year of 2015, 4,229 people reported harassment related to unlicensed moneylending. This represents a 10-year low and a 26% year-on-year reduction.
The police have previously pegged 2009 as the worst year on record for harassment related to unlicensed moneylending, with close to 18,000 cases reported. Nearly 1,000 of these complaints involved property damage.
More youths in unlicensed moneylending activities
In May, police accosted two youths, aged 16 and 18, for setting fire to a Lengkok Bahru apartment. Police later determined that the apartment once belonged to a loan shark debtor.
Youngsters involved loan sharking and harassment is indeed an alarming trend. Many suspect that it is easier to lure younger people with the promise of fast cash than those with more life experience. They often may find advertisements on Facebook and other social media sites offering lucrative job opportunities. They then apply for these jobs without truly understanding what they are getting themselves into.
The advertisements are very vague stating only that it is for a “part-time job”. Only after calling the number in the ad, would an potential applicant learn the true nature of the supposed “job opportunity”
A day’s work for interested parties can earn them S$200 or more. The easy cash easily lures the young and the naive, after which they often find themselves imprisoned.
In the four months ending April 2015, police arrested 10 people for offenses related to unlicensed moneylending and harassment. For the same period in 2016, that number jumped six-fold to 61 youths. Of those arrested, 61 were youngsters but only a small percentage were debtors turned runners.