Published Wednesday, 04 July 2012
Loan sharks are assaulting their clients who cannot make payments. (© Getty)
Northern Ireland is a personal debt hotspot and criminals are taking advantage by targeting victims such as those on benefits, people with drugs problems, or those struggling to run small businesses, the review of organised crime warned.
Borrowers are often charged extortionate interest rates and failure to pay can prompt threats or seizure of goods.
The report said the economic downturn has led to a decrease in lending by financial institutions to clients with less than perfect credit ratings and an increased dependence on alternative lending options such as social loans, credit unions, pawnbrokers, door step lenders, pay day loan companies and also loan sharks.
Benefits books and Post Office cards are often held as collateral against black market loans.
Failure to pay can result in threats, physical assault or the client being forced to carry out an illegal task for the loan shark.
Northern Ireland has the highest rate of economic inactivity in the UK, providing an ideal market for racketeers.
"Organised crime gangs are often fluid, with members changing depending on the skills needed for a particular enterprise," the report said.
"They will also adapt to the environment in which they are operating by changing the types of crime they are involved in, developing new expertise and exploiting perceived weaknesses and loopholes."
The information was contained in the Organised Crime Task Force annual report for last year.
The report also detailed challenges for law enforcement here ranging from drugs, flytipping, online fraud to human exploitation and smuggling.
It also revealed that 33 potential victims of human trafficking were rescued, 30 fuel laundering plants were dismantled, while £13m worth of illegal drugs were seized and £4.5m of criminal assets recovered.