Simon Read: Don't forget the real villains of rip-off lending

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The Independent Online

The news that average credit card interest rates have soared to around 19 per cent is a major concern for anyone forced to turn to plastic to survive. As ever, struggling folk will be hit by the higher rates while the more well-off, who either don't use plastic or who can afford to pay off their balance every month, won't be affected.

The easy answer is for people not to use credit cards, but try telling that to someone who has run out of cash and won't be paid for another few days and has a family to feed. In the worst cases such people are easy prey for payday loan firms who will hand over £100 or so for just a few days' borrowing. But anyone turning to these lenders will be faced with huge APRs.

Because of that it's easy to criticise these firms for cashing in when you look at the charges – but the fact is that they often provide a financial lifeline to those who may otherwise have nowhere to turn for money to pay for essentials.

When you examine the costs, they do seem unacceptable. QuickQuid, for example, charges up to £14.75 per £50 borrowed. That works out at a staggering APR of 2,356 per cent. Rival payday loan firm Wonga quotes an even higher APR of 2,689 per cent.

But if you're expecting me to call for a clampdown on these rip-off charges then think again. Payday loan firms do provide a service to needy people; the kind of folk who are likely to get a short, sharp "no" at their bank. Let's face it, even if their bank did agree to help out, their fixed fees or late payment charges could mean anyone borrowing just a few quid could end up paying a lot more.

I don't want to clamp down on payday loan firms. But I would like to see action taken against dodgy doorstep lenders who use violence to bully people into borrowing more cash than they can afford to repay. It's easy to be horrified at credit cards and payday loans and forget about the real loan villains. *There was a nice bit of opportunistic Twitter/Facebook scaremongering from the comparison site Confused.com this week. On the back of the launch of a new website called PleaseRobMe.com, Confused claimed that social network users could have their home insurance premiums hiked by up to 10 per cent.

The PleaseRobMe site warns those who have published details online of where they live, that they are telling potential burglars when their home is empty. It's a bit of fun with a serious warning for folks to be careful about the personal information they reveal.

But Confused claims that insurers could use social media as a factor in an individual's risk and, in the process, rack up the charges. That seems balderdash to me. It's true that the amount of personal information that some people are prepared to share with strangers online is astonishing. But it's also true that most home burglaries are done by opportunistic sneak thieves, roaming the streets looking for an open window or other easy access to a home. They're not online using Google Earth and Twitter or Facebook to track potential victims.

*Sir Geoff Hurst, England's 1966 World Cup hat-trick hero, is the latest to lose cash in a property swindle. The former striker handed over £600,000 to be invested in luxury flats in Marbella, Spain. But the cash disappeared and Hurst is now fighting a court battle to get his cash back.

I've warned before in these pages about the dangers of falling for the tricks of crooks and swindlers but it's worth repeating the warning now that heroes are ending up as victims. If you're offered a once-in-a-lifetime deal, then it's probably time to say no.

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