Name a bunch of people who are even more unpopular than bankers, tabloid journalists and politicians.
Well, I guess there are some pretty good candidates. Right now ISIS and more or less anyone from 1970’s British television would be right up there. But these are come and go characters. Back in the day the National Front would have strolled into any top ten. Now for anyone under the age of 50 it is a case of National Who?
Hate figures come and go but a few remain constant.
Like loan sharks.
Oh yeah, in the whole of human history these guys have never once been flavour of the month. Hatred of loan sharks spans the ages all the way from Jesus going mental in the money lenders’ temple through Shakespeare’s Shylock and his pound of flesh to the modern day Brits yearning for the chance to hang Fred the Shred from the nearest lamppost.
Over our 12 years of life as a front line charity, loan sharks have always been oddly shadowy figures. I cannot ever remember anyone ever using a name when talking about a loan shark. Maybe you don’t find that so very odd, but it is actually. There is seldom a time when we are not kept fully up to speed as to who is the main smack peddler in the town.
To be honest the tawdry activities of the local loan sharks has never played all that large for First Base.
This made a meeting I had yesterday all the more interesting. It started with a call from a guy at a local housing association. There are two guys down from Glasgow. I gave them your name. Hope that’s OK. They’ll be round to see you at noon.
Two Trading Standards officers down from Glasgow on the trail of a loan shark in North West Dumfries.
I was actually pretty impressed with them. They both had a kind of Eliot Ness thing going on and I got a strong sense of men on a mission. They were up front and open about the thread of intel that had drawn them south. It was as thin as Posh Spice. Just a whisper really. A faint echo. But enough.
I asked them to describe the pack drill. And as it turned out, the pack drill was pretty interesting.
Lending money without a licence is illegal under the criminal law. Up to two years inside, a fine up to £2000 and the possibility of having all your stuff confiscated under the proceeds of crime act if you can’t come up with a good enough explanation about how you came up with the cash to buy it.
So once the Trading Standards guys get themselves a name they can very quickly make the life of one of our modern day Shylocks pretty stressful.
It was the next bit of the story that got my attention.
It is completely legal to borrow money from a loan shark no matter how much of a scumbag he may be. More to the point, once you borrow the cash, you have no legal obligation whatsoever to pay it back.
Which basically means that the loan shark is a pretty exposed character. So long as he keeps a hold of his season ticket in the shadows he is OK. Pay me or you’ll get seriously battered. But once they are dragged kicking and screaming out into the light, the battering part of their business plan isn’t all that feasible.
This is the point where 'people power' starts to kick in. Once the 50 or 60 poor sods who are caught up in the loan shark’s net start to get wind of the fact that they don’t need to pay after all, they soon start to tell Sharky to shove his compound interest where the sun don’t shine.
So he turns up at their front door, no doubt with some B movie wannabe in tow.
Knock, know, who’s there?
It's Sharky. Pay up or Big Danny here is going to put all of that time in the gym to good use.
At which point a quivering victim is supposed to open the front door before Big Danny kicks it down and tearfully hand over an Xbox and the housekeeping money.
But once Sharky and Danny have been yanked out of the shadows, things soon start to play out differently.
Knock, knock who’s there?
Sharky and Big Danny.
Ring, ring, emergency services. Who do you need? Cops please. It’s Mrs Terrified Victim here. I have Sharky and Big Danny at my door threatening to give me a proper kicking unless I hand over our Jimmy’s Xbox.
Nae bother love. Give us five minutes.
And then it is flashing blue light time. Hello Sharky. Hello Big Danny. So what are you lads up to then? Come on. In the back.
And so it goes that 'threatening behaviour' gets bolted onto 'illegal money lending' for the Sheriff to consider at a later date.
This is when it hit me that the loan shark is in a completely different position to the drug dealer who shares similar methods of cash collection, namely a proper kicking care of Big Danny.
First up, anyone who takes a few bags of smack on credit knows that they are breaking the law themselves. Not surprisingly, they are seldom over keen to pick up the phone to seek the protection of the boys in blue. Hello there, I had twenty tenner bags of Big Danny’s boss and now he says he’s going to break my legs if I don’t pay him back. And then of course there is the other pressing problem, namely that the punter knows full well that he is going to need to score three tenner bags the next day to avoid the joys of cold turkey. Will anyone sell to him if he has just served up Big Danny and his gaffer to the local drug squad?
A completely different set of rules applies to the loan shark. All of those trapped in their net tend to have vowed to themselves that they will never go near the likes of Sharky and Big Danny ever, ever again. As in ever.
They have learned a hard lesson the hard way. All they want now is for the slate to be wiped clean and to have the chance to start to get back on their feet.
So when they get to hear of a way out, they are more than likely to grab it with both hands. To tell Sharky asnd Big Danny to get stuffed and if they turn up at the front door, to call up the cops. Thery don’t have to worry about having broken any laws themselves for the simple reason that they haven’t broken any laws. They have done absolutely nothing wrong and there will be absolutely no consequences. They also don’t have to worry about finding another Sharky next week to lend them £20 to get the lights back on because they have already decided never to go near the likes of Sharky ever, ever again.
As in ever.
Life for Sharky and Big Danny soon becomes increasingly uncomfortable. Every time they go near a punter's front door the cops are there within minutes. And this gets noticed from behind all the curtains down the street. The community starts to turn against them. They soon become universally hated figures. There is no sympathy. Only hard hating eyes.
They are Pariahs trying to explain how they funded the 50 inch 3D tele in the front room on £70 a week's worth of brew money.
For once there is a reasonably easy solution to the abject misery and fear that many people are enduring. It is obvious that more and more will be falling from the seductive sweet talk of the loan sharks only to discover that once they are in their clutches they are completely trapped. Well it doesn’t have to be that way. All the boys from the Trading Standards need is a name and an address. Once they have the name they can get the ball rolling.
Knock, knock, who’s there?
Trading Standards. We’re about to make your life really crap.
Oh shit. No Danny. Sit yourself back down….
And then its all about Chinese whispers through the pub and the Post Office and the Spar shop and the school gates and the bus stop.
If you owe money to Sharky and Big Danny, you don’t need to pay. Just tell them to get stuffed. And if they start to kick off, just call the cops….
Her at number 34 called the cops on Tuesday night. You should have seen that Big Danny when they shoved him into the back of the squad car......
And soon the ball is wll and truly rolling.
One minute Mussolini is the dictator of everything he can see.
The next minute he is a terrified bald guy about to be hung up from a meat hook in downtown Milan.
It turns out that Sharky and Big Danny are not so mighty after all. And it turns out that it doesn’t take all that much for them to take a pretty big fall.
All it needs is a name in fact.
So if there is anyone in Dumfries who fancies jotting down a name and an address on a scrap of paper and shoving it through our letter box, I will be more than happy to pass it along to the boys from Glasgow. This isn’t how First Base usually rolls, but this is different. Every day we see people who have had every penny of their income stripped away on the back of some bogus small print from the Job Centre. The idea of parasites feeding off this constant stream of human misery really sticks in the throat.
These people deserve nothing but complete contempt. They need naming and shaming and shutting down. If you can spread this blog around any Dumfries social networks, then you never know – on morning there might just be a scrap of paper on the mat.