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Spend & Save

Simon Read: Cute pictures of cats - will payday lenders stop at nothing?

I assume you've seen the internet phenomenon of Lolcats. They've been around since the middle of the last decade and simply involve the online sharing of pictures of cats with so-called amusing captions such as "I can haz cheezburger".

Depending on your point of view they're either charming or tedious. But this week they moved into the world of sinister with the emergence of a payday lender using the previously harmless pictures to flog expensive credit. The despicable website promises loans "EVEN 4 PPL WIF POOR CREDIT RATIN, OR NO CREDIT RATIN AT ALL".

It's the clearest sign yet that the payday lender sector is completely out of control. Last week MPs criticised the Office of Fair Trading for failing to get to grips with rogue payday lenders.

The Public Accounts Committee accused the OFT of being "ineffective" and "timid", and said it has failed to identify risks of malpractice which have cost consumers at least £450m a year.

But the slippery and shadowy people who apparently think it is OK to use religion – as our story on page 55 reveals – or viral cats to encourage people to take on expensive debt they may not be able to afford to pay back are hardly going to be discouraged by a fairly powerless regulator.

These dodgy firms operate illegally online without licenses to make a quick buck out of vulnerable people.

Rather than censuring the OFT, parliament needs to get to grips with this out-of-control sector. That means introducing laws setting out powers to instantly shut down unscrupulous lenders.