Police acted last year on a record 238 cases of loan-sharking or unauthorized lending, in which a record 122,000 people were victimized, the National Police Agency said Thursday.

The number of cases was up by 28 from 2001. Such records have been kept since 1990, the NPA said Thursday.

The financial damages in these cases totaled about 16 billion yen, the agency said.

Mobsters were involved in roughly 25 percent of the cases in which moneylenders pressed heavily indebted people to pay outrageously high interest rates, the agency said, speculating that such loan-sharking activities have become a key revenue source for the underworld.

The 238 cases include 116 involving unregistered moneylenders and 208 involving illegal interest rates, the agency said, noting 446 people faced criminal accusations.

In many cases, loan sharks would pressure people with multiple debts to repeatedly borrow 30,000 yen to 50,000 yen, and then squeeze them for several thousand percent in yearly interest, compared with the maximum legal limit of 29.2 percent, according to the agency.

Loan sharks have become more malicious and clever, the NPA said, noting many run their businesses via mobile phones.

The Metropolitan Police Department and the prefectural police forces in Aichi, Hiroshima and Fukushima jointly established an investigative task force to look into the cases, the agency said.

Police also investigated large-scale fraud cases last year, often involving investment deals targeting middle-aged housewives. The damages from such scams totaled about 189 billion yen, the largest figure in the past 10 years.

Loan sharks indicted

OSAKA — Three people, including the chairman of Osaka-based finance company Swiss Private Fund, were indicted Thursday for violating the law controlling investments and deposit rates.

SPF Chairman Masaru Wanaka and two others were arrested Jan. 9 on suspicion of collecting money from people nationwide through a false investment deal and loaning the money at interest rates higher than those allowed by law to heavily indebted people, including pensioners.

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