Over a month ago, Sudha (name changed), 40, borrowed Rs 60,000 from three different loan applications to cover some emergency expenses, including her children’s school fees. But she got only about Rs 48,000 after deductions on behalf of processing fee.
The loan had to be paid in a week. His nightmare began on the morning of the sixth day. Incessant WhatsApp calls and text messages demanding payment have become the norm ever since. Partial payments to UPI links sent from various apps were never accounted for and the debt grew, fueled by exorbitant interest rates. The demands soon turned into threats, using the permissions she had granted to access her contact list while she was installing the apps.
“They even got access to my phone gallery and started sending my modified images and derogatory messages to my contacts. This was despite paying around ₹1.36 lakh in a month and a half,” said Sudha. Since then, he has changed his mobile number and formatted his phone on the advice of the cyber police.
Cyber police sources said that people continued to fall prey to loan applications despite many documented cases of fraud. Instant money with little documentation remains a big draw. Uploading copies of her Aadhaar and PAN cards was all Sudha had to do.
Notifications from such apps flood mobile phone users, enticing them with easy loans and installation links. A random search on the Internet also returns a large number of such applications. Customer reviews of many of these apps serve as the biggest warning about the threats they pose, but they are consistently ignored.
“The operators are usually from the northern states of India and they mask 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 such apps is the only plausible solution,” said a senior cyber police official.
There are also reports that no money is lent at all, but app installers are threatened with paying back loans they never took. “Many victims choose to pay for fear of the humiliation of being painted as a trap and having their transformed images find their way onto their contact lists,” said a source from the cyber cell.
There are others who borrow money and refuse to pay, barely bothered by threats of naming and shaming. Some of them even file police reports for being harassed by loan applications or simply replace their mobile phone numbers. “But the loan applications seem to have taken that possibility into account and are still working, with the confidence of knowing that more people will pay scared by their scare tactics than those who just don’t care,” the officer said.