In 2020, Sekhar* turned to an instant loan app as he needed ₹4,000 when he was unemployed. It was for seven days. But the 28-year-old didn’t know that despite reimbursing the amount on time, he would continue to be harassed. It started with app executives calling him insisting he still owed them money. When he refused, they threatened him with defamation via text messages and calls. Representatives then began contacting people on the lender’s contact list and even sent a colleague an unsolicited WhatsApp message. It read, “Hail from XYZ Company. If his payments do not arrive within 30 minutes, you must pay the amount. Otherwise I will make bad videos with your photo too”. The co-worker received the message with the loanee’s photo attached. The shocked colleague contacted Sekhar. Sekhar tried to explain to her that he was being exploited by loan application collectors but she refused to believe him. He eventually contacted the local police, who registered an FIR. He then turned off his phone.
Mahesh*, a resident of Vanasthalipuram, was surprised when he started receiving calls from instant loan applications. This despite never having had recourse to a loan. Callers’ demand: Pay ₹7,000 or face dire consequences. They even threatened to transform his photo and circulate it. Mahesh approached Rachakonda Police. Police discovered that the complainant’s neighbor had allegedly defaulted on the loan. Since the neighbor turned off his phone, the executives started harassing others. They targeted Mahesh because his name on his neighbour’s phone was registered as “Mahesh Anna”. The police registered a case.
Suman*, 27, a resident of Begumpet, woke up to a brutal shock when he realized his morphed photo was doing the trick. Worse, he had been qualified as a pedophile for having raped a minor of five years. This photo arrived in Suman’s family’s inbox. He realized that it was done by representatives of an instant loan app he once used to borrow ₹4,000. Although he returned the money, the application called him defaulting. The harassment started when he refused to back down. Suman eventually had to go to the police and file a complaint. The investigation into his case is still ongoing.
Victim forced to borrow
When a 32-year-old software professional from Attapur refused to take a call from an anonymous number, callers began harassing the loanee through various numbers. “When I asked for time, the caller said he would give me a day. The harassment resumed the next day. So far, I have not filed a complaint with the police. This victim took loans from different apps in 2020. He took about ₹20,000 but ended up paying ₹50,000. In 2020, during confinement, he lost his job and took out a loan. But after a while, he reached a stage where he had to borrow money from friends and relatives to repay the loans. “After the police crackdown, the harassment stopped, but for 2-3 months the officers have started again,” he said.
Spoofed display name
One day, while a victim was sitting next to her mother, her phone started ringing. The mother saw that her son who was sitting next to her was calling. “Agents were using certain apps for spoofing. This was done to ensure I answered the call,” the victim said. When he tried to verify the location of the number on Truecaller, it showed Indonesia. “I suspect they are doing this from India. To avoid getting caught, they are using software to mislead us,” he said.
(Names changed on request)