More than a month ago Sudha (name changed), 40, borrowed ₹60,000 from three different loan apps to meet some emergency expenses, including her children’s school fees. But, she got about ₹48,000 after deductions in the name of processing fee.
The loan was to be repaid within a week. Her nightmare began on the morning of the sixth day. Incessant WhatsApp calls and text messages demanding reimbursement have become the norm ever since. Partial payments to UPI links sent from multiple applications were never accounted for and debt grew, fueled by exorbitant interest rates. The requests quickly turned into threats, using the permissions she granted to access her contact list when installing the apps.
“They even got access to my phone gallery and started sending my tweaked photos and derogatory messages to those of my contacts. Sudha: She has since changed her mobile number and formatted her phone on the advice of cyber police.
Cyber police sources said people continue to fall prey to loan applications despite numerous documented cases of fraud. Instant money with little documentation remains a big lure. Downloading copies of his Aadhaar and PAN cards was all Sudha had to do.
Notifications from these apps flood cellphone users, enticing them with loans and easy-to-install links. A random search on the Internet also generates a number of these applications. Customer reviews for many of these apps are the biggest warning about the threats they pose, but are routinely ignored.
“The operators are often from the northern states of India and they hide their digital footprint. Tracking them down is a difficult task. In addition, the money is transferred through a complex network of accounts. Raising awareness to stay away from these apps is the only plausible solution,” said a senior cyberpolice official.
There are also reports that money is not being loaned out at all, but app installers are being threatened with repaying loans they never took. “Many victims choose to pay, fearing the humiliation of being portrayed as cheaters and their transformed photos reaching those on their contact lists,” a Cybercell source said.
There are others who borrow money and refuse to repay, barely embarrassed by threats of denunciation and shame. Some of them even file complaints with the police for being harassed by loan applications or simply replace their mobile numbers. “But loan apps seem to have factored in this possibility and are still working, knowing that the people who will pay scared off by their bullying tactics will be more overnight than those who don’t care,” said said the officer.