A deeper understanding of loan app rackets

Cops say borrowers harassed despite paying off loans on time An analysis of thousands of complaints against loan apps by cybercrime investigators has revealed that they prey on the desperation of the borrowers to first glean information about their victims and then use this information to further blackmail them.

Gautam S. MengleUpdated: Wednesday, June 08, 2022, 10:23 AM IST
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A deeper understanding of loan app rackets | Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Mumbai: Cops say borrowers harassed despite paying off loans on time An analysis of thousands of complaints against loan apps by cybercrime investigators has revealed that they prey on the desperation of the borrowers to first glean information about their victims and then use this information to further blackmail them.

Police officials said that the first step in the racket is to bombard the internet with hundreds of advertisements for the apps to ensure maximum visibility. Once this is done, social media algorithms and surfing platforms do the rest.

A cybercrime officer said, “Your cell phone is constantly recording your surfing habits and using that data to show you relevant information. For example, if you frequently search the internet about food, you will start seeing targeted ads about relevant eateries and food delivery services near you. Even your browser will throw up news articles related to food.”

He said, similarly if one is searching for options offering unsecured loans, the browser and social media will show ads for loan apps. This is usually the beginning of the descent into the murky world of loan apps.

Those who are desperate for a quick financial solution,finally install one such app. This is where the first pitfall is hidden. As soon as the app is installed, it asks for a variety of permissions that have to be granted by the user.

It is important to remember that the user has control over what permissions they grant; and most apps don’t complete the installation process unless all permissions are granted. This includes access to the victim’s basic profile, text messages and contacts list.

Ideally, an app that facilitates an easy loan does not need access to your messages or contacts, but this is a fact that is not known to many people and will cause great distress to the users in the near future.

As the users are in dire need of money, they do not think twice about granting these permissions. The user is then required to apply for a loan, which involves submitting a photograph, PAN and Aadhaar card copies, bank account details and contact details.

They are then contacted by app representatives and a smooth, well-rehearsed spiel is given to them. The loan amount is decided and, as promised, dispersed within minutes at a predecided rate of interest.

In most cases, the customers repay their loans within the stipulated deadline and in accordance with the easy monthly instalments (EMIs) decided in the agreement.

However, even after the loans are repaid, the app’s executives keep calling saying that the repayment is not reflected in their records and demand the same amount over and over again.

This is where the harassment begins. “The first trend that was observed was to send text messages to the complainant’s contacts, harassing them about the pending loan from the complainant,” said an officer.

With time, however, the harassment became bolder and murkier. The recovery agents have started morphing photographs of the complainants on obscene content using a technique called deep fake creation.

Deep fakes are convincing pictures created using artificial intelligence, which read the victim’s facial features and predict their expressions, often accurately, in certain situations.

The latest trend, though, observed is of loan app agents sending morphed pictures of their previous victims to their new targets in order to scare them into paying up.

What has the cyber security and law enforcement community worried, however, is that this is just the beginning, as the internet and technology continue to offer more ways to abuse victims.

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