Google Play Store features more than a hundred loan guide apps that promote predatory lending, as per a tracking website maintained by Babu Lal, who has been monitoring the presence of predatory loan and loan guide apps on app stores over the past few months.
Loan guide apps don’t engage in lending by themselves, but instead provide links to download APK (Android Package) files that can be used to install predatory loan apps bypassing the Play Store. This practice of installing apps from unofficial sources, such as through APK files, is referred to as sideloading. Sideloaded apps don’t go through moderation checks that apps in the Google Play Store do, so it’s an ideal channel for fake loan app developers to push their apps.
We’ve reached out to Google asking if such loan guide apps are allowed according to Play Store policies and what action is being taken against them if they’re not. We will update this post once we get a response.
We’ve previously written about how Google Play and Apple App Store are plagued with predatory loan apps. This menace still exists, but loan guide apps make the problem worse because they expand the reach of fake loan apps allowing users to download them from outside of the Play Store. So even if Google successfully curbs fake loan apps on Play, the guide apps offer a way for loan apps to reach users. Many of these loan guide apps have hundreds of thousands of downloads.
Not only are these apps present in the Play Store, but Babu Lal found Google to be actively promoting some of them through ads:
You open Google Play and the first thing at the top, you see is an Ad of an Instant Loan Guide App.
What are these Loan Guide Apps?
They distribute apk of fraudulent loan apps which were previously removed from the stores.
Have been tracking this particular app from last 10… pic.twitter.com/FwUv8f1Kxm
— Babu (@pooniawalla) September 14, 2023
Why does this matter? Predatory loan apps (also known as fake loan apps) don’t have the necessary regulatory permission to function and they have been found to target vulnerable borrowers. If someone is late on a payment, the apps threaten to (and in some cases actually do) reach out to the friends and family of the borrower. In the worst case, these apps make fake sexual images of the borrower using photos from the phone gallery and threaten to share the same with the entire contact list of the borrower.
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