UNSCRUPULOUS loan sharks could be damaging the health of people living in a deprived area of Worcestershire.

Loan sharks are targeting vulnerable members of the community in Westlands, Droitwich, and offering illegal loans which may see them pay back much more than they originally borrowed.

To combat the problem, the England Illegal Money Lending Team (ILMT), Worcestershire County Council, Fortis Living and Wychavon District Council have teamed up for a week long campaign in May.

The partners want to raise awareness of the dangers of borrowing from illegal money lenders and will signpost victims to the help and support available through the IMLT.

The Sid the Shark mascot will be spotted around Westlands during the week.

Activities running throughout the week, from Monday, May 8 to Friday, May 12, include a pop up shop running at Westlands Community Hall, from 10am to 1pm on Tuesday, May 9.

Everything will be 50p plus there will be a free café and soft play area for children.

At the shop, information will be available about alternative safer forms of lending such as credit unions.

The first 50 people to join 6Towns Credit Union and save £5 per week for 3 months between April and July, will be awarded with a £25 savings boost straight in to their credit union account.

Residents who fill in a loan shark survey will be entered into a prize draw and could win £25 Argos vouchers.

The survey can be picked up at the pop up shop or in St Mary’s Pharmacy.

Frances Howie, director of Public Health, said: "Loan sharks are completely unscrupulous and take advantage of the most vulnerable.

"This programme of activity is to help support people in biting back against illegal lenders, by reporting loan sharks on 0300 555 2222, accessing support around managing money and saving through the Credit Union.

"There are loads of things going on that everyone can get involved in.

"Financial challenges can have a serious impact on the health of residents and we want to tackle this."

Tony Quigley, head of service for ILMT, said: "These lenders may appear to be offering a community service but borrowers are often forced to pay back far and above what they have borrowed and can afford.

"Loan sharks have been known to resort to bullying tactics, such as threats, intimidation and even violence to enforce repayment from borrowers."

There will also be a poster competition for children at Westlands First School with prizes for winning posters. Winners will be announced by Sid the Shark on Thursday, May 11.

Anyone spotting Sid can post a selfie to social media, using the hashtag #stoploansharks.

The new incentive is being funded by the IMLT using cash which has been confiscated from convicted loan sharks.