AS Chris Canham of Hoot says, loan sharks are rarely the tattooed-covered thug wielding a baseball bat so often depicted in television dramas.

They can be a familiar face in the neighbourhood or someone you regard as a friend.

However, there are a number of indicators that should start alarm bells ringing.

If the lender offers you a cash loan, or if they fail to provide any paperwork, both are causes for concern.

Similarly, adding huge amounts of interest or APR to your loan, or taking your bank card, credit card or passport are also warning sides.

Any threats made by the lender should be reported to the police immediately.

The important thing to remember is that you are not alone — it is estimated that there are 310,000 people in debt to illegal money lenders in the UK.

The government-funded England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) has the power to investigate and prosecute loan sharks and illegal money lenders.

Since 2004 it has supported more than 28,000 people and written off more than £73 million of debt.

You can report a loan shark or illegal money lender to them in full confidence and completely anonymously. You can also speak to an officer over the phone if you want to.

To report a loan shark you can contact the IMLT 24-hour hotline on 0300 555 2222.

Alternatively, you can visit the website at