A loan shark who used Snapchat to promote his illegal money lending activity has been jailed for 16 months.
Rovin Mavunga, 24, of Doncaster, was sentenced on Wednesday at Sheffield Crown Court.
The illegal lender paid a Snapchat influencer to advertise their services online and even used social media to threaten their victims when they couldn’t afford to repay, a court said today.
Simon Mortimer, prosecutor, said Mavunga offered short-term, high-interest loans to 130 borrowers through Snapchat over a 22-month period as part of an “organized, sophisticated and profitable illegal business.”
Mavunga charged interest rates of just under 100% on the loans and pocketed £ 140,000 in repayments from its debtors.
He arbitrarily increased their repayments and added penalties with threats of violence for late and missed payments.
Have you been the victim of a loan shark? Tell us your story: [email protected]
A man took out 91 loans, demonstrating his extreme financial vulnerability. From a group of 35 borrowers identified through phone records, Mavunga made a profit of £ 25,000.
Mavunga was arrested in January 2020 when agents from England’s Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), working in partnership with Doncaster Trading Standards and South Yorkshire Police, executed a warrant at his home and seized electronic devices.
The outstanding loan balance at the time of the arrest was £ 100,000.
Upon his arrest, Mavunga refused to provide his phone’s PIN and password, knowing there was evidence against the device.
The court was told that Mavunga would request that images of the borrower’s identification documents be sent to him via the social media platform and that these be saved to his phone.
On some occasions, he also asked for photographs of the borrower’s front door and evidence of income such as pay slips or benefit letters.
Mavunga went to a victim’s area to request a loan repayment. He sent the image of the house and the vehicle because he believed they belonged to the victim’s mother.
The intention was to intimidate the victim into paying off his debt and enforcing the amount owed.
Mavunga introduced this victim to a man called “Arnold” who used Snapchat to threaten to burn down his house and raise interest on his loan until he owed £ 7,000 on a first £ 1,000 received.
“Sometimes it’s best to avoid certain circumstances while you can. Because when I start to pick you up, it will be too late,” a post said.
Another threat read, “I’m going to talk to your mother now… And I’ll come back later… She has a nice car – to which the victim pleads ‘Don’t involve them’.”
After his arrest, Mavunga continued to operate illegally despite bail conditions prohibiting him from doing so.
On February 11, 2020, a company called 24/7 Loans Limited was formed under the address of Mavunga and Mavunga was appointed director.
Mavunga had intended to take care of lending, a regulated activity for which he was not authorized, following his first arrest. He was then arrested again in March 2020 when another phone was seized from him.
One victim, a single mother of two, learned about Mavunga’s lending activity through her Snapchat ads.
He was also asked to send pictures of his passport, proof of address, the front door and entitlement to benefits for a loan of £ 200.
The illegal lender sent the money by wire transfer and demanded the double in return within a month.
No document or documentation was provided to set out the terms of the loan agreement.
Over time she had smaller loans and after repaying £ 300 she could no longer afford to pay so Mavunga added £ 57 as a ‘late payment fee’.
The victim had never met the loan shark and all communication was via social networks. On March 8, 2020, she received a call from an unknown number, with the speaker saying only “It’s Rovin” before hanging up.
On March 11, 2020, the date of Mavunga’s second arrest, the victim was slapped twice in the face by a man who approached her in the street to ask “Where is Lou’s money”.
She fled and took refuge in a nearby store. She rang 999 and was picked up by the police. Due to her fears, she had to move to a new area.
Condemning Mavunga, Miss Recorder Mr. Rhys said he used “appalling behavior taking advantage of personally and financially vulnerable people”.
The judge said people who borrowed from Mavunga “were not borrowing large sums for extravagant lifestyles but for basic needs” and were “understandably terrified” by threats made as their debts “rose au- beyond all recognition ”.
The IMLT 2020 Victim Statistics Report showed that one in 10 people affected by illegal loans met the lender through social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook, or through dating sites.
Tony Quigley, Director of IMLT England, said: “Mavunga ran an organized, sophisticated and profitable illegal money lending business where he paid a social media ‘influencer’ to advertise his services in line in order to gain more customers. He deliberately preyed on financially vulnerable people and used cruel tactics to enforce debts.
“This case demonstrates the misery caused by loan sharks and how clients of unregulated lenders are exposed to unscrupulous lending practices such as threats, high interest rates and penalties.
“We would like to thank the brave victims who have come forward and provided evidence in this case. We hope this will reassure the local community that we will not tolerate this type of violent behavior and that we will do everything in our power to ensure the safety of the victims and bring the perpetrators to justice.
“We urge anyone who has taken out a loan, has not received any documents, and may have been threatened or treated in this way to seek specialist assistance on our 24-hour helpline on 0300 555 2222. The chat in live is also available on our website between 9am 5pm on weekdays at www.stoploansharks.co.uk.
Illegal money lending teams in England, Scotland and Wales are working alongside the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to investigate those who operate illegally in the consumer credit market.