Engaging in criminal usury is to engage in or to finance directly or indirectly extension of credit at a rate of interest more than what is enforceable through civil courts. Enforceable rates vary from 0% in some countries whose laws are based on the Koran to over 50% per year. In a more severe form, loan sharks entice people into debt at interest rates up to 100%, then threaten or inflict violence upon them, their families, or their property if payments are not made. Most victims fail to report such violence for fear of retribution.
Loan-sharking is a characteristic of poverty in inner cities where many have to borrow money in order to meet day to day or urgent needs. Although people may be receiving support from welfare services, significant portions of such payments may be deducted before they receive it, at times when they have other urgent needs.
Illegal money lending proliferated in many Gypsy settlements in Slovakia in the 1990s. Powerful village loan sharks demanded interest rates as high as several hundred percent, trapping their victims in a vicious circle of paying all their incomes (mostly social allowances) to their "benefactor" and having to borrow another amount of money in order to survive. Many of such debtors became criminals out of necessity, either trying to get money in alternative ways or in order to pay off some of their debts. It was reported in 1999 that certain loan shark from a poor village in Eastern Slovakia, feared and therefore inaccessible, had over a short time accumulated as much as one million Slovak crowns (equivalent to about US$ 25,000) in the time when average salary in Slovakia was about six thousand crowns ($150) and social allowances were still less than that.