A senior civil servant has been the target of threats from a debt collector, sparking a highly sensitive police investigation. Children of the public servant are said to have been placed under the protection of police officers, fuelling claims of privileged treatment. The Information Services Department confirmed that its officers, who staff a 24-hour media liaison service 'newsroom', had received several telephone calls relating to a senior civil servant. 'We received a number of nuisance calls last week. A report was made to the police. We have nothing further to add,' it said. The department declined to identify the civil servant, understood to be a woman, who was the subject of the calls. The Police Public Relations Bureau declined to comment on the incident, but detectives from Hong Kong Island Regional Crime Unit are carrying out the investigation. Police sources said officers were upset about attempts to 'cover up' the case and the special treatment being given to the civil servant. A source said the debts were believed to be associated with the public servant's husband. It is understood that the couple are close personal friends with a senior police officer who does not work for the Hong Kong Island Regional Crime Unit. A Civil Service Bureau spokesman said bureaucrats were issued with guidelines encouraging them to be prudent in their borrowing and not to financially over-extend themselves. Police officers are subject to even stricter guidelines to protect against the potential for corruption. Incidents involving acts of criminal intimidation and damage in pursuit of debts have been on the rise in recent years as the economic slump sent more people into debt and thus into the hands of loansharks. But problems have also arisen from 'legitimate' debts to banks and mobile phone companies, which sometimes 'contract out' work from their debt recovery departments to private contractors. In 1998, the Association of Banks admitted it was 'entirely possible' that third parties hired by legitimate collection agencies were using illegal means to recover debts. Investigators say it is notoriously difficult to snare those who use threats and violence to settle debts because witnesses are frequently reluctant to come forward and it is difficult to pinpoint threats. Last year, the number of criminal intimidation cases - mostly linked to debt collection - rose by more than 60 per cent, and police bosses ordered a territory-wide crackdown on the problem. Earlier this year, in an operation involving the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau and mainland police, an alleged cross-border loan shark syndicate was smashed in Shenzhen. All the syndicate's 'clients' were in Hong Kong, but the racket was run from across the border in an attempt to avoid detection.