LOAN sharks are being targeted with a week of action to tackle illegal money lenders.

The neighbourhood police team in Chester-le-Street kicked-off the programme this morning by executing two warrants on suspected loan sharks in the area.

Two men aged 39 and 43 were arrested on suspicion of illegal money lending, and a 20-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting.

Officers are spending the rest of the week working with other organisations to provide information and support to those who need help with debt and managing finances.

Chester-le-Street Neighbourhood Inspector Dave Coxon said: “We see the harm caused by loan sharks and illegal money lending, although people are often reluctant to discuss difficulties that they have with their finances.

“We work closely with the Illegal money lending team and other key organisations to provide support and advice to those who are most vulnerable to exploitation by criminals.

“Loan sharks feed on that vulnerability, their motivation being the money which they make for little effort and on occasions use intimidation and violence to obtain payment."

It is estimated about 310,000 people are in debt to illegal money lenders across the country.

Since 2004, the England Illegal Money Lending Team have supported 28,000 people and written off £73m worth of debt.

This week the Chester-le-Street Neighbourhood Police Team will be supported by the Illegal Money Lending Team, Community Safety Partnership, Neighbourhood Wardens, Durham Savers, Durham County Council, Karbon Homes and NE First Credit Union.

There are 30 planned events set to take place between Monday and Saturday, including pop-up Pact meetings, attendance at schools and community events.

Surveys will be carried out and up to 10,000 bin stickers will be distributed.

Sharkey the mascot will be out and about all week posing for pictures which people are being encouraged to post on social media using the hashtag #ChesterleShark

The action by officers is in response to concerns raised about the harm illegal money lending is causing to people.

Insp Coxon added: "This week of action is about raising awareness of the issue and trying to help people out of the challenging situations that they are in.

“I’d encourage people to speak with members of the team or any of our partners at the community events, alternatively look out for information on our Facebook page.”

As part of the week of action, the Illegal Money Lending Team have also funded a £25 incentive with the NE First Credit Union. If you save a minimum of £1 per week, or £5 per month if paying by standing order between now and Christmas, they will add £25 to boost your savings.

Anyone interested can get more information and sign up to a new Credit Union Savings Account at the following events:

• Birtley HUB, Durham Road - Tuesday and Friday 12pm to 2pm

• Karbon HUB, Chester le Street - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 9am to 1pm

• Grange Villa Community Centre - Wednesday 10am to 11.15am

• Brockwell Centre, Pelton Fell - Monday 10am to 11am

• Birtley Leisure Centre - Monday to Friday 10am to 2pm

For confidential help and advice, call the Stop Loan Sharks hotline 0300-5552222.