FOUR youngsters, one of them just 12 years old, have been arrested by the police in the past week for harassing people who owe money to loan sharks.
The 12-year-old is one of the youngest caught for such illegal activities in recent years.
The trend of teenagers getting involved in loan shark activities in the last year or so is worrying the authorities, with the matter being raised in Parliament in August.
In the recent arrests, police spotted two of the four boys behaving suspiciously around a block of flats in Hougang Street 51 on Oct 2. They appeared nervous and fidgety, and fled in different directions when officers approached them.
The officers nabbed one of them - the 12-year-old - after a short chase.
They arrested his 15-year-old accomplice later that day at his flat in Woodlands Avenue 4.
Investigations revealed that the boys had been working with two other teenagers to harass people who had borrowed from loan sharks.
The other two, aged 16 and 19, were picked up from their flats in Woodlands last Saturday and on Wednesday respectively.
All four are out on bail pending further investigations.
Anyone convicted of loan shark harassment can be fined up to $40,000 or jailed for up to three years or both.
Those who damage property or cause harm to others while committing such acts also face caning.
Courts usually place young offenders under 16 years old on probation, in boys' homes or at the reformative training centre at Changi Prison Complex.
While some teens are lured to such activities to earn easy money, others do so to pay off their debts.
Straits Times checks found that the teens are popular with loan sharks because they are more daring. The youths are paid about $50 per job for splashing paint on doors and scribbling threatening notes on walls.
Two months ago, Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee revealed in Parliament that 81 youths, some of them girls, had been arrested for such crimes in the first six months of this year. The youngest among them was again aged 12.
For the same period last year, 21 youths were nabbed for harassing debtors, while the total figure for 2007 was 59.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.