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Send a nude pic for a loan

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Some years ago, I remember a Chinese lender, Jiedaibao by JDCapital, asking applicants to send them a nude photo to get the loan. The photo would be kept private unless the loan defaulted. If payments were missed, the photo would be shared online to all your friends and contacts. That’s a good way to ensure payback.

I was therefore interested to see that the idea has now taken off in India … but the story is more like something out of a Black Mirror episode than something positive. Here’s the story, as reported by the BBC:

Astha Sinhaa woke up to her aunt’s panicked voice on the phone. “Don’t let your mother leave the house.” Half-asleep, the 17-year-old was terrified to find her mum Bhoomi Sinhaa in the next room, sobbing and frantic. Here was her funny and fearless mother, a respected Mumbai-based property lawyer, a widow raising her daughter alone, reduced to a frenzied mess.

“She was breaking apart,” Astha says. A panicked Bhoomi started telling her where all the important documents and contacts were, and seemed desperate to get out of the door. Astha knew she had to stop her. “Don’t let her out of your sight,” her aunt had told her. “Because she will end her life.”

Astha was terrified to find her mother Bhoomi so distressed.

Astha knew her mother had been getting some weird calls and that she owed somebody money, but she had no idea that Bhoomi was reeling from months of harassment and psychological torture.

She had fallen victim to a global scam with tentacles in at least 14 countries that uses shame and blackmail to make a profit - destroying lives in the process.

The business model is brutal but simple.

There are many apps that promise hassle-free loans in minutes. Not all of them are predatory. But many - once downloaded - harvest your contacts, photos and ID cards, and use that information later to extort you.

When customers don’t repay on time - and sometimes even when they do - they share this information with a call centre where young agents of the gig economy, armed with laptops and phones are trained to harass and humiliate people into repayment.

At the end of 2021, Bhoomi had borrowed about 47,000 rupees ($565; £463) from several loan apps while she waited for some work expenses to come through. The money arrived almost immediately but with a big chunk deducted in charges. Seven days later she was due to repay but her expenses still hadn’t been paid, so she borrowed from another app and then another. The debt and interest spiralled until she owed about two million rupees ($24,000; £19,655).

Soon the recovery agents started calling. They quickly turned nasty, slamming Bhoomi with insults and abuse. Even when she had paid, they claimed she was lying. They called up to 200 times a day. They knew where she lived, they said, and sent her pictures of a dead body as a warning.

As the abuse escalated they threatened to message all of the 486 contacts in her phone telling them she was a thief and a whore. When they threatened to tarnish her daughter’s reputation too, Bhoomi could no longer sleep.

She borrowed from friends, family and more and more apps - 69 in total. At night, she prayed the morning would never come. But without fail at 07:00, her phone would start pinging and buzzing incessantly.

Eventually, Bhoomi had managed to pay back all of the money, but one app in particular - Asan Loan - wouldn’t stop calling. Exhausted, she couldn’t concentrate at work and started having panic attacks.

One day a colleague called her over to his desk and showed her something on his phone - a naked, pornographic picture of her.

The photo had been crudely photoshopped, Bhoomi’s head stuck on someone else’s body, but it filled her with disgust and shame. She collapsed by her colleague’s desk. It had been sent by Asan Loan to every contact in her phone book. That was when Bhoomi thought of killing herself.

We’ve seen evidence of scams like this run by various companies all over the world. But in India alone, the BBC has found at least 60 people have killed themselves after being harassed by loan apps.

 

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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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