The Hyderabad City Police’s Cyber Crime division arrested two Bengaluru residents for allegedly operating six predatory instant loan apps under the supervision of a Chinese national named Chen Chaoping.
According to a press release, the accused Shabbir Alam and Umakanth Yadav were employees of Koramangala-based Sky Links Technology Pvt Ltd, a firm that was allegedly operating the loan apps — Ocean Ruppee, Life Wallet, Maloo Wallet, Elephant Cash, Box Cash, and Dutta Rupee. When installed, the apps obtained permissions for access to the gallery, contact list, and location for providing the short-term loans.
“When the victims are incapable of repaying the loan amounts, accused persons post their photos on social media platforms by morphing their photos, and threatening calls are also made,” the release said.
In the past, several people have ended their lives due to harassment from representatives of unauthorised digital lending apps, many of which were found to have ties with Chinese nationals. Agents of such unregulated apps also allegedly threatened to start reaching out to people on victims’ contact lists.
In 2020, accused used to work in another loan apps call centre
The release said, that in 2020, Chaoping allegedly operated a loan apps call centre named Golden Bag Technologies Pvt. Ltd at Bengaluru. Then, Alam worked as a supervisor and Yadav worked as the IT Manager of the firm.
However, when police began to crack down on predatory loan apps in 2020, the release said that the Chaoping left for China. “After 2 months the Chinese national again contacted the accused Shabbir Alam and Umakanth Yadav and instructed them to run the call centre by introducing new loan apps.” The apps were allegedly developed by Chaoping.
The release said that, based on Chaoping’s instructions, the accused hired about 100 tele-callers and opened Sky Links Technology Pvt Ltd.
Victim, her colleagues, and relatives were harassed for loan repayment
Hyderabad City Police in the release said that they received a complaint from a 30-year-old Rethibowli resident in Hyderabad stating that she had taken loans from these apps. Both cops and the victim say that the apps were available then on Google Play Store. However, MediaNama was not able to zero in on these apps on the Play Store at the time of publishing this report.
The victim said that she had taken a loan of approximately Rs two lakh. “After only 7 days after she failed to repay, threatening calls were made to her from different WhatsApp numbers and abused her in vulgar language. They also called her colleagues and relatives and threatened that they will circulate her number to 500 different men,” the release added.
What are the other such loans apps that Hyderabad City Police pointed out?
- Clear Loan
- Credit King
- ecpress Loan
- Money Stand
- Infinity Cash
- Ccash Bee
- Apna Paisa
- Quality cash
- Loan Home
- Cash land
- Enjoy Loan
- Cash Now
- Fast Rupee
- Kuberan Rupee
- Hello Loans
- Fresh Rupee
- Fast Cash
- Simple loan
- Loan Cube
- Timely Loan
- Ocean Rupee
- OK Rupee
- Rice Vault
- Ican Loan
- Life Wallet
- Unti Cash
- Rupee Home
- Flip cash
- Rupiya Bus
- Small Loan
- Handy loan
- Rupee Smart
- PP Money
- Small Loan
- Dr Cash
- My Kredit
At the time of publishing this report, we found that most of these apps are still available on Google Play Store.
How bad is the predatory loan app problem in India?
In September 2021, SaveThem India, a foundation started in March 2020 to counter the lending apps problem in India, had received over 55,000 calls from victims of harassment from lending apps. Here are some of the common harassment techniques that loan apps use to recover money, documented by SaveThem India in screenshots and recordings accessed by MediaNama:
- Late-night calls: Lending apps use automated calling software to harass victims late at night and interfere with their daily life.
- Threats to inform contacts: In case the borrower defaults, lending app agents threaten to call the borrower’s contacts or create WhatsApp groups to announce their failure to pay. In some screenshots accessed by MediaNama, such groups were created and images were circulated with ‘420’ or ‘fraud’ written over the victims’ photos.
- Fake Legal Notices: The apps threaten to take legal action against borrowers and send fake legal notices with e-stamps indicating stamp duty paid under registered case to the government.
Loan apps use Google, Facebook ad platforms to run misleading or fake ads
To lure unsuspecting borrowers, predatory lending apps advertise on popular social media platforms like Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram. Ads for these apps have even appeared on apps like Truecaller and Zomato (through integrations with the Facebook Audience Network and Google Ads).
Loan apps advertising on social media often run misleading or downright fake ads. Here are some ways in which these ad banners carry misleading content –
- Media personalities; Some ads seen by MediaNama that ran on Youtube include pictures of well-known figures like Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Sudhir Choudhary, and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
- Bank Logos: Ads run on Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram seen by MediaNama use logos of trusted banks like Union Bank of India, IDBI Bank, ICICI Bank, and SBI. Logos of trusted payment apps like Google Pay, PayTM, and PhonePe were also used on ad banners to lure unsuspecting borrowers.
Not just obscure apps, RBI-regulated entities also indulging in such practices
At a time when Chinese loan apps are being criticised for imposing exorbitant interest rates and employing predatory practices, fintech company MobiKwik (which was looking to go public until recently) has been accused of resorting to similar, ethically-dubious practices for securing the repayment of a loan availed from its platform.
This particular incident pertains to Bharath C Raghurama, a 34-year-old native of Karnataka who is currently based in Gujarat. Raghurama had availed an instant loan offered by MobiKwik in December and his repayment was scheduled for the end of the month. But when Raghurama was not able to pay it by the stipulated deadline, MobiKwik agents started harassing him over WhatsApp, it is learnt. They warned him that if he is not able to repay the sum as soon as possible, then friends and family would be informed about the situation. They also appended a list of his ‘key contacts’ as proof that they have access to the details of his friends and family.
- How Will Google Regulate Predatory Lending Apps That Are Still Harassing Indians?
- The Fake Loan App Scandal Is Not Going Away Anytime Soon
- RBI Received 1,500 Complaints Against Digital Loan Apps, Over 100,000 Digital Transactions Complaints
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