Instant loan apps: BBC flags Hong Kong connection and 60 deaths
A BBC documentary on the dark underbelly of instant loans claims at least 60 Indians, including youth, have taken their own lives after being blackmailed by recovery agents
Morphed and nude pictures of a young woman in Mumbai were forwarded to all her colleagues, friends, relatives and other contacts to coerce her to repay a loan she had taken, those interest rate had galloped so fast that she was finding it difficult to pay back.
She is one of the brave who fought back, and survived with the support of her daughter, family and friends.
Others have not been able to bear with the fear and the shame and either left their hometowns or took their own lives.
A BBC documentary, The Trap, spoke to the distraught parents of a 24-year-old woman in Telangana, who died by suicide. It spoke to a man in Pune, whose daughter is accused of killing her bedridden paternal grandmother and stealing her money to pay back the loan. It speaks of another victim too, who killed his own wife and children before taking his own life.
The BBC documentary, based on investigations carried out over 18 months by a team headed by Poonam Aggarwal, was released on Wednesday, 10 October, on social media in India.
Digital instant loan apps are easy to download.
They seek permission to access data, and once the access is given, like all other apps, the company collects everything in the device, from the contact list to photographs and personal details.
The loan is processed so fast that sometimes the money is transferred within 5 minutes. The lure of seemingly easy and instant access to loans is apparently irresistible to people looking to somehow tide over an emergency.
The short-term loans, often given for a week or less, come with compound rates of interest, forcing some to take fresh loans to pay off this one.
There are laws against extortion and harassment, but most of the victims are too ashamed to report the circumstances to the police.
Yet the police have regularly cracked down on dubious phone apps and arrested some of the culprits. But there are apparently too many of them, and some win the confidence of the gullible by using celebrities like popular Indian cricketers in their advertisements.
The documentary persuaded a worker at a call centre in Noida (in Delhi NCR) to record images and audio of the recovery agents at work.
Posing as a potential investor, they spoke to a ‘manager’, who confided that recovery agents and operators are trained to abuse and blackmail victims. The recovery agents are trained to find out vulnerabilities of the loan applicants. “Everyone has at least one person in their contact list who can utterly destroy their life,” the manager smugly told the 'investor'.
The BBC team specifically investigated one of the loan-app companies, Asan Loan, which had sent the morphed nude pictures of the woman who survived. It was not easy because the company had shared neither an address nor an office phone number. The team, however, got enough leads to identify one Parashuram Takve and his Chinese wife, who were running the Indian operation on behalf of a Hong-Kong based businessman from Pune. Both are absconding.
The Hong-Kong based businessman readily tells the undercover reporter, posing as a potential investor again, that his company was among the three largest players in India. He also confided that the company is not compliant with international law and, even more significantly, pays no ‘local taxes’.
It is a chilling documentary, certainly, and hopefully will serve as a timely reminder to law enforcement agencies to pay more attention to criminal activities that are taking the lives of Indians — and of foreign companies which are profiting from the misery of Indians.