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When Debt Leads to Crime

30th July 2010

Anyone who has found themselves unable to continue to manage their debts will understand that the situation can create many pressures. Stress can affect many aspects of people’s lives including their relationships, their workplace performance and their health.

Most people in such a situation review their options in terms of common debt solutions such as a trust deed in Scotland, bankruptcy, or the debt arrangement scheme. These options can address the cause of the serious strains and pressures that they are experiencing.

However, for a very small number of people the pressures of unmanageable debt can lead to criminal activity.

It has been widely reported this week that a Lanarkshire Royal Bank of Scotland worker embezzled £150,000 to pay off credit card debts and to put a deposit down on a house. The credit card debts themselves amounted to £70,000. The individual has admitted to the crime at Glasgow Sheriff Court this week and has been released on bail pending sentencing.

At the end of last year a fund-raising manager of an Edinburgh charity for the disabled escaped a jail sentence after stealing £6,000 from the charity. A fake account had been set up for a non-existent disabled boy to hide mounting debts from her family. The defending solicitor explained how the individual was struggling with £60,000 of debt. Due to her age and the lack of a previous criminal record the individual received a 240 hour community service order.

In 2008 a Liverpool based carer was caught stealing from a 75 year old leukaemia sufferer. The NHS employee, who claimed that she needed the money to pay off her mounting debts, was jailed for six months.

Such crimes can also arise in the most unlikely of places. Freemasons are generally understood to protect their own but in 2004 one Northumberland freemason took a very different path. The individual concerned had previously enjoyed a £70,000 salary but, after becoming self-employed, his income reduced to £12,000 per year. As his debts mounted in 2004 and 2005 he stole £48,000 from two Masonic Lodges. The Court took a dim view of such behaviour and the individual was jailed for 21 months.

One truly bizarre crime arose in 2009 when an online gamer stole virtual funds from fellow players of a sci-fi game and exchanged them for real cash. Known in the game as “Ricdic” the individual was the CEO of “Ebank”, the virtual bank operating within the game itself. “Ricdic” embezzled about 200 billion “interstellar kredits” and exchanged them for around $5,100 in real money to repay debt. Once discovered, ”Ricdic” was kicked out of the game.

Of course such crimes are not victimless and irrespective of any debt pressures, simply cannot be justified. When individuals are prepared to risk everything to steal from the terminally ill, from charities for the disabled and from their own employer, questions must be raised as to why the individuals had not previously sought help in dealing with their debts.

Residents of Scotland have many options to deal with unmanageable debt levels. These include refinancing, debt management plans, the debt arrangement scheme, protected trust deeds and sequestration. The key factor is to find good advice and act upon it as soon as possible.

Many debt advisors report that their clients express great relief once they understand the options open to them to deal with their debts. The clients themselves often express regret that they did not seek help sooner due to the stresses that they had previously been experiencing.

While crimes related to debt are relatively few in number, the problems created for the victims and the criminal themselves can be enormous. The consequences are far worse than they would ever have been if advice had been taken and an appropriate course of action had been selected before the temptation to steal became too strong.

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