Caught in deadly loan trap: How dubious lending apps caused 60 deaths
Those who took their lives due to harassment by these apps included — an award-winning musician, a young mom, a father of two daughters and four teenagers.
Instant loan apps, having several with links to China, have been running a blackmail scam to entrap and humiliate borrowers across India, and 14 other countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The blackmails have led to at least 60 people taking their lives after being abused and threatened, a BBC undercover investigation has revealed. The report exposes those profiting from these scams in India and China.
Those who took their lives due to harassment by these apps were mostly in their 20s and 30s and included — an award-winning musician, a fireman, a young mom, a father of two daughters, a grandfather and grandson, and four teenagers.
The BBC reported that most victims were too ashamed to speak about the loans.
In its 43-minute documentary, the BBC reveals how these apps function and how they have destroyed lives across India.
24-year-old civil servant who took her life
Kirni Mounika was a 24-year-old civil servant who had borrowed from 55 loan apps. What began as a ₹10,000 loan, spiralled into over thrice of that. When Mounika took her life, she had repaid over ₹3,00,000.
Loan apps harassed her, threatened her and began messaging her contacts.
Mounika was the only student in her school to have a government job. A sister to three brothers, Mounika left for office in the usual way the day she took her life three years ago.
Her father, a successful farmer, was ready to fund her master's in Australia.
After she had died, her phone rang and was answered by her father, “They told us she has to pay. "We told them she was dead.”
Her father told BBC, “We could have easily arranged the money.”
How it works?
Among hundreds of applications that offer hassle-free loans to individuals, several are predatory. Upon downloading them, these apps gain control of contacts and photographs in users' phones as well as ID cards, to use them to extort the borrowers.
If the customers do not repay the loans on time and sometimes even after they pay, these apps share the information with call centres who then, using their devices, harass and humiliate people into repaying the loan, BBC report stated.
A debt recovery agent, worked with the BBC to reveal how it functioned. Having gained the trust of manager Vishal Chaurasia at Callflex Corporation — a company hired to recover debt — he spoke to him.
Chaurasia revealed that once someone took a loan, the apps gave access to the contacts in their phones to Callflex Corporation and if the borrower missed any payments, the company would begin harassing them and then their contacts. He said that his employees could say anything to the customers as long as they got their loans repaid.
“The customer then pays because of the shame. You'll find at least one person in his contact list who can destroy his life,” Chaurasia said.
Possible links to China
Another call centre agent who worked on loan recovery for another organisation told BBC that managers instructed staff to abuse and threaten people claiming that he never made such threats. “Everyone has a reputation to maintain in front of their family. No one is going to spoil that reputation for the measly sum of 5,000 rupees.”
He said that once a payment was made, they would move to the next client. Soon, several clients began threatening to take their lives, however, none of the agents took them seriously. Once the suicides began, they called their boss Parshuram Takve to seek advice.
Takve, having a ruthless reputation, said, “Do what you're told and make recoveries.”
However, Takve wasn't running the operations alone. The agent said that while running, the software interface would suddenly switch to Chinese.
Takve was married to a Chinese woman Liang Tian Tian and they started a loan recovery business Jiyaliang in Pune. In December 2020, the duo was arrested for harassment and in 2022 they were charged with extortion, intimidation and abetment of suicide. They are on the run currently.
Researching the duo, BBC contacted a Chinese businessman Li Xiang, who was running loan apps in India, Mexico and Colombia. He told the BBC team, posing as investors, “We are still operating now, just not letting Indians know we are a Chinese company.”
In 2021, Li's companies were raided by Indian police who were investigating harassment by loan apps and their accounts were frozen.
“You need to understand that because we aim to recover our investment quickly, we certainly don't pay local taxes, and the interest rates we offer violate local laws.”
Li claimed that there were over 3,000 staff in several companies across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who were providing post-loan services.
Speaking about how it worked, he said, “If you don't repay, we may add you on WhatsApp, and on the third day, we will call and message you on WhatsApp at the same time, and call your contacts. Then, on the fourth day, if your contacts don't pay, we have specific detailed procedures. We access his call records and capture a lot of his information. Basically, it's like he's naked in front of us.”
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