If you’re new to Singapore, you may be a little surprised to learn that we have loan shark issues. I suppose we can be grateful: in lieu of murders and armed robbery, we have petty vandalism (which is the extent of most loan sharks these days.) Still, unless you want to be trapped out of your house the 41st time someone superglues the lock, look out for these loan shark signs:
An important note about loan sharks in Singapore
In some cases, the new tenants are only able to resolve the problem by paying the loanshark a portion of the debt. You don’t want to have to do that, or to even deal with the hassle. So be extra careful and watch for the following:
1. Look for the CCTV cameras
Do you see any CCTV cameras around the apartment? Isn’t it kind of odd that, in super safe Singapore, someone would feel the need to install those?
Well you’re right. Because Singapore is safer than the inside of a sterilized safe, most people don’t feel a need to mount cameras. When they do, it’s often a sign of two things: disputes with the neighbours, or loan sharks.
Now I’m not saying the cameras always mean these two things, just that it’s often a sign of trouble.
One of the easiest ways to dissuade a loan shark runner (the person who does the harassment and vandalism for the loan shark) is to mount cameras, because that gives the owners something to show the police.
If it’s not a loanshark issue, it can also indicate a troublesome neighbour (e.g. the kind who will accuse you of assault if you accidentally nudge their potted plant.)
Query the agent or landlord on why the camera is there, and be on guard.
2. Check the lock on the gate
A basic tactic of loan shark harassment is to put some kind of industrial adhesive into the locks. This causes the exact kind of problems you’d expect (trapping you in or outside the apartment.)
When you come for a viewing, you might notice the lock is extremely new, especially in contrast to the rest of the gate. If you come back a second time, you might even see the lock has changed. While this is not proof of loan shark activity, it is reason to be wary.
Also check around the keyhole of the lock, and look for scuffmarks where someone may have been at it with a tool. If you see anything suspicious, it’s a good idea to be super nice to the neighbours, and buy them a coffee. Then start asking questions about what they’ve seen.
3. Check the nearest stairwell, and along the corridor, for loan shark graffiti
Loan shark runners all splash paint on the front door. If they were imaginative enough to be different they would have actual jobs.
The apartment’s owner or agent will have the front door repainted, but they seldom extend their efforts to the corridors or nearest landing. Sometimes, the coat of paint in these areas is too thin; you may still be able to make out some of the graffiti under it.
The standard graffiti is (owe money, pay money). This will be followed by the name, unit number, and NRIC number of debtor. This is one of the rare occasions when graffiti works to your convenience: squint and check that unit number.
You can sometimes find the same graffiti in the lift, or in the mail collection areas.
4. Be on guard when you see an unusually sparse corridor
A central corridor usually has some amount of clutter. You may see potted plants, a skateboard, or at least a shoe rack.
But if you see the corridor is completely bare, get suspicious. When loan shark troubles strike, one of the first things the neighbours do is to shift everything indoors.
(You’re not going to leave your stuff out when someone swings by to manically splash paint every night.)
An extra tip: you can use the corridor clutter to tell how safe the residents feel. Well cultivated plants, expensive shoes, or an unchained bicycle left in the corridor all show confidence in the area’s safety.
5. Look for these signs in the neighbouring apartments as well
Loan shark problems are shared. If your neighbour has loan shark issues, you will be adversely affected. At the very least, you can expect to be woken at two or three in the morning by loud confrontations.
Most neighbours will be happy to share their complaints if this is happening. Sharing complaints and ranting are Singapore’s national past time. So don’t hesitate to knock on some doors and ask frank questions.
One last word of advice…
If you do rent a unit and find loan shark problems, stay calm and involve the police (or a lawyer if you want to break the lease.) Do not try to fight the loan shark runner.
It’s pointless, because the runner is not the actual loan shark (some runners are debtors themselves, trying to work off their loans.) You may also want to think twice before paying off a loan shark, as you have no guarantee that they will back off afterward.