TORBAY Council is joining the fight against loan sharks this Christmas.
The authority is among many teaming up with the England Illegal Money Lending Team to target loan sharks who cause misery in communities.
The team says it aims to put an end to the callous crime by enforcement and education.
A spokesman said: "The message is clear - what may seem like a small loan to tide people over for Christmas could end up costing them well into the New Year and beyond.
"The effect is not just financial. The impact on the lives of victims and their families can be horrific."
Tony Quigley, the head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: "No matter how much you are struggling financially, loan sharks are not the answer.
"They are motivated only by their own greed and are not offering you a service.
"These criminals should always be avoided at all costs.
"They could easily ruin your Christmas and you could be subjected to years of harassment, paying back your loan several times over.
"We’d recommend credit unions as a safe and legal alternative."
Cllr Robert Excell, Torbay Council's Executive Lead for Safer Communities, said: "We are pleased once again to be supporting the work of the England Illegal Money Lending Team.
"We recently worked in partnership with them and the theatre company Shontal who laid on a stage drama performance in Brixham, warning of the dangers of loan sharks.
"We welcome the team's efforts to raise public awareness, advising people on how to avoid falling prey to illegal money lenders."
To highlight the impact the England Illegal Money Lending Team has released a video compilation of real life victims' stories, in which those who have suffered at the hands of loan sharks explain in their own words how horrendous their experiences were.
The team says that in many cases the loan sharks are involved in wider criminality including drugs and firearms offences, and it will prosecute for all offences.
Anyone who has been the victim of a loan shark can call 0300 555 2222 to speak to the England Illegal Money Lending Team in confidence. Lines will be answered 24/7 by a trained investigator throughout the festive season.
They can also text ‘loan shark + your message’ to 60003; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or private message the team on www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject