Officers from West Yorkshire Police have joined forces with the National Trading Standards Board to crack down on illegal loan sharks across the district.
The two organisations, along with the Illegal Money Lending Team, are trying to raise awareness that loan shark lending is not only a crime but that it can leave people in a much worse situation than they started.
Leaflets are being distributed with parcels at local food banks in a bid to target the more vulnerable and needy residents.
Insp Geoff Carter, from West Yorkshire Police, said: “I would ask you all to avoid this illegal trade.
“These people can take over people’s lives - they are not helping, as they try to suggest, but are actually making things much worse.
“There is help out there for people with money worries - please go to the professionals.”
Residents who are considering using a loan shark because of their financial difficulties have places to turn to no matter what the situation.
The White Rose Credit union is a not-for-profit organisation that is run for and by its members. It provides access to low-cost affordable loans and encourages regular saving. Wakefield District Housing (WDH) also offers support to people across the district.
Mick Walsh, service director for neighbourhoods at WDH, said: “We advise tenants in financial difficulty to contact the White Rose Credit Union or contact their bank as soon as possible.
“We also advise tenants to contact the Step Change debt charity and the Illegal Money Lending team, which is based in Birmingham.
“We have a dedicated website for tackling exclusion and debt (www.askted.org.uk), which tenants can visit for further financial advice, while our cash wise team offers free workshops to tenants and non-tenants aimed at helping them become more financially secure and avoid rent arrears.”
As well as offering alternatives to struggling residents, police and trading standards officers want to target those who are taking advantage of people in financial difficulties.
Insp Carter said: “I would ask anyone with information about these practices to contact the police or the Illegal Money Lending team hotline number on 0300 555 2222.”
MP Jon Trickett said the rising cost in living was leading many people to consider using illegal loan sharks.
He said: “Many of my constituents tell me they struggle month on month to make ends meet and feel pushed into using loan sharks to cover bills and the cost of living. This is not surprising seeing as energy bills are up almost £300 since the election.
Loan sharks are taking advantage of this cost of living crisis and are targeting the most vulnerable people.
“Loan sharks are leaving behind a trail of devastation. People need to know there is another choice, to seek advice and borrow money in a safe way.
“I recently visited the Hemsworth branch of the White Rose Credit Union, who said they pick up many people in the aftermath of having used loan sharks. They provide current accounts, flexible low-cost loans with no hidden charges, savings accounts and help people to better manage their money.”