Vishal Diwan, an IT professional, was in urgent need of ₹12,000 last October and that was when he came across “instant loan” apps online that promised him money “instantly”, without the hassle of lengthy documentation.
“I had never applied for any loan and so I thought of giving loan apps a try. I found five apps and applied for a loan on all of them. Within minutes, I received ₹24,000 in all from five different accounts. When I checked the interest rates later, I was shocked to find that I had to repay ₹8,000 for every ₹4,800 I borrowed from each app within seven days,” said the 44-year-old IT professional of Sector 7.
And that was when the nightmare began.
By December 1, he started receiving over 100 calls a day to repay loans he had never taken. “Unidentified people started calling and threatening me. They started contacting my colleagues, friends and relatives and started harassing them to repay my loan. They morphed my pictures in obscene ways and sent them to everyone on my contact list. They started threatening me that they would upload these pictures on social media, following which I approached police in December,” he said.
In all, Diwan was forced to pay back ₹3.5 lakh within a month against the ₹24,000 loan he took, police said.
On May 11 this year, police registered a case on Diwan’s complaint under sections 384 (extortion), 420 (cheating), and 465 (forgery) of the Indian Penal Code and sections 66, 66B, 67 A and 67 of the Information Technology Act was registered at Cyber Crime police station.
Assistant commissioner of police (cyber crime) Indivar, who goes by his first name, said they have received around 20 such complaints related to cheating, threats and harassment from those who availed of loans from micro lending apps.
Indivar said they start investigation as soon as they receive a complaint but it takes a couple of months to verify all facts as they need to collect details from several banks and social media sites
“People don’t check the details of the app and do not read the permissions that the app is asking for. These apps access all your phones details, including contacts and photos, which are later misused. Many young people are falling prey to fraudulent micro lending apps. The main lure of these apps is the easy processing of loans without any surety,” he said.
According to the police, the fraudsters use illegal call centres — several of them were recently busted in Gurugram —— to hack into the app user’s phone and steal their data, including bank details, emails and photographs, and start harassing the user by sending their friends, colleagues, and relatives the user’s morphed pictures.
In at least two such cases, the victims ended up in divorce courts after their spouses received these pictures, police said. Even paying back the loan will not free the victim from their clutches, police said, as the harassment, blackmail and coercion would continue, forcing victims to pay up multiple times.
Amit Sharma, an executive working with a multinational company, said he took a loan of ₹5,500 in January 2021 and repaid ₹25,000 within a month but the harassment did not end even then. “I just took the loan to find out how easy the process was. I got married around the same time and after a month, they started sending my morphed pictures to my wife and my married life was in trouble. I tried convincing my wife that these were morphed pictures but she was not ready to believe me until a case was registered by the police,” he said.
In another incident, a banker who took a loan of ₹50,000 to travel for his honeymoon ended up paying ₹15 lakh to escape their clutches. Vineet Patel, who hails from Pune and works in Gurugram, said he took the instant loan to travel to Goa but he eventually ended up having to sell his valuables to repay the loan. “My in-laws and wife had decided to call off the wedding and my relatives had to intervene and explain that I was a victim of fraud. We repaid the loan after taking a regular bank loan. The suspects still call and threaten me; I have blocked more than 500 numbers so far but it’s never ending,” he said.
In January, police received another complaint from a 25-year-old Sector 104 resident, Kuldeep Singh. He said on September 7, 2021, he viewed a pop-up ad about instant loan at an interest rate of 2%. “I installed the app and it asked to upload my Aadhaar card and PAN card and one photo to get the loan. I repaid the loan amount of ₹2,001 on September 14. Then the app unlocked more features and I borrowed more. Later, I realised that the interest is calculated at per day rates, which means that the total interest rate is almost double the principle. To pay off the loan I ended up taking more loans from other instant loan apps. I took instant loans of around ₹10.58 lakh and repaid ₹17.55 lakh,” he said.
Police said despite several campaigns and awareness drives, people still fall prey to such schemes. The toll free helpline — 1930 — can be used to report cyber frauds and to freeze fraudulent transactions, police said.