Two years ago, Mary (not her real name) was walking with a friend near her home in Liverpool. She had just moved into a new, rented property with her two daughters and, although she was a single parent with no job, was feeling confident about the future.
But a chance meeting that day led the 44-year-old into 18 months of fear and misery from which she has only just escaped. “We met this man, who my friend then borrowed some money from,” Mary recalls. “It seemed easy and he was very friendly. Because I had just moved into my new place I needed loads of stuff, so popped round to see him a few days later and borrowers £200. I used the money to get some essentials, such as duvets and saucepans.”
But Mary’s trouble began almost straight away. Even though the man had told her she could start making repayments a week later, he turned up on her doorstep within three days to demand cash. That was just the beginning of her nightmare.
The loan shark’s visits became more frequent and he demanded more money each time. Then things began to escalate. When Mary told him she had no money to repay him when he made one of his regular visits, he told her she would need to take another loan to repay him. His tone suggested that she had no alternative. He did the same a couple of months later. Pretty soon she was even further in debt, and things were getting worse.
“I ended up having to pay him £80 a week, and it came to the point when I had to go without food so I could afford to pay him. I was petrified. By the time he told me that I owed him £800, I knew I had to escape,” Mary told The Independent.