CCTVs help cops nab more loan shark runners

CCTVs help cops nab more loan shark runners

Electronic eyes have helped police nab an increasing number of loan shark runners, and put the squeeze on those involved in illegal moneylending and loan shark harassment.

Unlicensed moneylenders, thieves and molesters made up the bulk of those nabbed through footage from closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, said police yesterday.

In total, such technology has helped to solve 60 crimes of all types, and provided leads in another 220 cases since police started using the devices two years ago.

The result: Nearly 2,000 people were arrested for unlicensed moneylending and related harassment activities last year, more than twice the number nabbed in 2009, when such cases were at their peak. In 2009, more than 18,000 cases were reported, compared with about 8,300 cases last year.

With round-the-clock monitoring, many runners have become too afraid to harass people and damage property by splashing paint on doors, for instance. The number of such cases fell by almost one-third - or 2,461 - over the past year.

Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean noted in March that the police cameras were a strong deterrent to unlicensed moneylending operators.

Such cameras currently cover one in five Housing Board blocks and multi-storey carparks, and police plan to have them installed at all 10,000 blocks and multi-storey carparks by 2016.

The technology has complemented tough laws and sustained enforcement, public education and community partnership to drive down the numbers, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said then.

The Moneylenders Act, for one, was beefed up in 2010 so that first-time offenders found guilty of loan shark harassment are given at least three strokes of the cane. Before that, only repeat offenders faced mandatory caning for damage to property and causing hurt.

Police continue to tighten the screws on syndicates, targeting in particular debtors who make up almost half of all those arrested for unlicensed moneylending activities, according to the latest statistics available.

To repay the money they owe to ah longs or loan sharks, these people often let syndicates use their bank accounts for illegal transactions. They also use multiple phone numbers when harassing other debtors, to elude detection.

So police announced in March that those caught assisting unlicensed moneylending syndicates would have their ATM and Internet banking privileges terminated, and be denied such services for at least one year.

And since last month, consumers can own only three prepaid phone SIM cards, a sharp reduction from 10 previously. "We are determined to weed out those involved in such unscrupulous activities, which pose serious threats to our society," said Superintendent of Police Aileen Yap, who heads the Unlicensed Moneylending Strikeforce of the Criminal Investigation Department.

This article was published on May 16 in The Straits Times.

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