SINGAPORE – Loan sharks are recruiting runners on Telegram, a messaging platform popular with young people, and promising to pay them handsomely for harassing debtors.
The Straits Times responded to an ad that listed a Singapore phone number, which was seeking individuals looking to “earn fast money”.
It belonged to a WhatsApp business account, and the individual behind it offered $350 per paint-splattered door.
Loan shark runners are paid to harass debtors, typically by splashing paint on doors and scrawling threatening messages on walls close to where the debtors live or work, to humiliate and pressure them into settling their debts.
Some runners have also resorted to arson, while others have carried out Automated Teller Machine (ATM) transfers on behalf of loan sharks.
When ST contacted the number, the man said in Malay that payment would be made only after the deed is verified via a video recording. The payment would then be sent via bank transfer or by having another party hand the runner cash.
Introducing himself as Roger, he said that runners can earn as much as they want. He then sent a video via WhatsApp, which he claimed was taken by one of his runners.
It looked similar to a case of suspected loan shark harassment that took place at a flat near Pasir Ris Drive 6 on March 25.
The video featured notes that came with the warning: “Don’t run bro! Next time I burn...”
A 20-year-old was arrested on Tuesday in connection with the Pasir Ris case. Kannan S. Chandran was charged the next day with causing annoyance to a borrower on behalf of an unlicensed moneylender.
After sharing the video, the loan shark said: “Do something like this, but use redder paint. Take a photo of the paint that you plan to use for me to approve first.”
He suggested runners use a face mask and gloves to avoid identification.
When asked if he had a large network of runners, he said: “Young people want to make money, and this job is very easy to earn.
“At the end of the day, I’m not forcing anyone to do anything. They’re the ones who chose to come to me.”
The penalties are serious.
First-time offenders found guilty of carrying out or assisting in a business of unlicensed moneylending can face caning, fines of up to $300,000, and a jail sentence of up to four years.
First-time offenders convicted for acting on behalf of an unlicensed moneylender, committing or attempting to commit any acts of harassment could be jailed up to five years, fined up to $50,000, and may also be caned.
Recruiters are also liable.
Any person found guilty of instigating a youth to commit an offence of assisting in the unlicensed moneylending business or carrying out harassment acts on behalf of the loan sharks can jailed up to nine years, fined between $6,000 and $300,000, and shall also be liable to be caned up to 12 strokes.
The police said that in 2022, there were more than 2,800 harassment cases linked to unlicensed moneylending. This was down from more than 4,600 in 2018.
The number of arrests has fallen – from more than 270 in 2018 to about 200 in 2022.
“The police will continue to take tough enforcement action against those involved in the unlicensed moneylending business, regardless of their roles, and ensure that they face the full brunt of the law,” said a police spokesman.
He advised the public to avoid unlicensed moneylenders, and to not collaborate with them in any way.
If members of the public suspect or know of anyone who could be involved in loan shark activities, they can call the police at 999, or otherwise call the National Crime Prevention Council’s X-Ah Long hotline at 1800-924-5664.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.