The North-east charity joins social enterprise Scotcash as a recipient of the Stop Loan Sharks Scotland Charter Mark in recognition of their zero-tolerance stance on illegal money lending within local communities.
The Scottish Illegal Money Lending Unit (SIMLU) has also launched a new dedicated advice site to support people in the north-east and across Scotland who are struggling to deal with loan sharks.
Throughout the pandemic, many illegal lenders have moved online, using social media adverts and messages to take advantage of those who are most vulnerable.
Although loans from these online lenders may be seen as providing a quick solution for those in crisis situations, the lenders may not be authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority and could charge huge interest rates.
On average, loans from illegal lenders end up costing three times as much as a legal loan.
The aim of the SIMLU charter mark is to create a network of organisations actively seeking to uncover and tackle illegal lending and, most importantly, to stop people from ever using loan sharks in the first place.
The unit’s new website – www.stopillegallending.co.uk – has been established to provide dedicated advice and support.
Molly McCall, outreach worker with Grampian Regional Equality Council, said: “GREC was so grateful for the opportunity to work with the SIMLU over the course of the last year.
"The funding we received allowed us to carry out vital work to prevent loan sharks targeting local minority communities through our Aberdeen AIM project.
“We were able to provide group training sessions as well as one-to-one support and advice for individuals who were facing financial hardship or exclusion, which could leave them vulnerable to illegal money lending.
“Although the project is now over, the lessons we learned over the course of the year have been invaluable in informing the work of our case workers going forward.
“Many of our clients will be facing some kind of financial hardship, and thanks to the work we did through our Aberdeen AIM project, we are now far better placed to support those clients.
“I am delighted that GREC have signed up to the Charter Mark and I’m very proud to be able to continue working in partnership with the Scottish Illegal Money Lending Unit on their mission to stop loan sharks.”
Fiona Richardson, chief officer of Trading Standards Scotland, said work had been ongoing with GREC over the past year on a prevention project.
She added: “We will work together to promote the message that you should not use loan sharks, but also to make sure that, where somebody has ended up using an illegal money lender, they know where to go to receive the appropriate help and assistance.
“It is important that we take all the steps we can to stop people from borrowing from loan sharks and getting trapped in a cycle of debt and intimidation.”