During the pandemic, as debts rose, the app representatives got nasty, as Ajith and fellow businessman Rajeshkumar KR found their horror. Several borrowers posted their experiences using the hashtag #OperationHaftaVasooli on Twitter and Facebook.
Rajesh delayed his payment due to technical issues. He spoke to the app rep, who assured him of a one-day extension. “Less than four hours after the call, the fintech application managers accessed my contacts, created WhatsApp groups with all my contacts. They sent abusive messages to all of them. As I understood their plan, I sent a message to all my contacts that my phone had been hacked. All have left the group, ”Rajesh said. All of this was for Rs 5000.
The incident angered Rajesh. “I didn’t give them permission to misuse my contacts or photos. In addition, I had asked for a one day extension and they had accepted it. I have always refunded the amount. Regarding fintech applications, I complained to the RBI, cyber police and the ADGP office, ”added Rajesh.
He sent screenshots of those emails to these app representatives. As soon as they saw him, they left the groups and started sending threatening messages to him. They said a recovery team would be sent to her home, an FIR would be registered, her bank account would be blocked and her credit score would be reduced. “I have decided not to pay now. Also, they cannot block my bank account or deposit FIR as they are running these apps illegally. There are no physical offices and are not in Kerala. Calls come from numbers in Gujarat, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The speakers only know Hindi and Broken English, ”said Nair.
What can Google do?
Google’s policies state that if an app “contains or promotes financial products and services,” it must comply with state and local regulations in any region or country. The app must also provide a valid email address and contact details, which none of these apps appear to have. The company states that it does not allow apps that promote loans that require full repayment within 60 days or less from the date the loan was granted. Google calls these loans “short-term repayment loans”.
“A lot of these apps are against Google Playstore guidelines. They ban apps that lend less than 60 days. In the case of these applications, the loan period is usually six days, ”Kesari pointed out.
After receiving several complaints, Google had recently withdrawn Ok Cash, Go Cash, Flip Cash, ECash and SnapItLoan. But, they’re all back in different avatars.
Does the government know?
As several people in Tamil Nadu were affected, DMK MP Dr S Senthilkumar wrote to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on November 16, 2020 about these rogue online apps. He hasn’t got an answer yet.
“Nationalized banks take months to approve loans. Taking advantage of this, private lenders provide loans at higher interest rates online. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced people to opt for these loans and loan representatives harass individuals leading them to suicide. The Ministry of Finance must ban these applications and ask the RBI to monitor these online applications, ”Senthil Kumar said.
Kerala MP PV Anvar wrote to the Chief Minister of State about illegal fintech apps based in northern India, highlighting the situation of a woman in her constituency who lost around Rs 2 lakh due to of these applications. Within Nilambur Panchayat, 25 others have been subjected to severe harassment from representatives of these fintech applications.
RBI is aware of the proliferation of these apps because in June 2020, the central bank had come up with a list of measures that these fintech apps should follow. He had drawn up the guidelines after receiving several complaints about exorbitant interest rates, non-transparent methods of calculating interest, stringent collection measures and unauthorized use of personal data.
A PIL has been filed with the Supreme Court by Mumbai-based Pravin Kalaiselvan in this case and is expected to be heard on December 14.
Srikanth believes the only way to reduce the effectiveness of these malicious apps would be through awareness, better regulation and increased digital literacy. “We need to have more informed consumers who understand the differences between malicious apps and legitimate apps. Platforms like Google must also strengthen their App Store policies so that these apps do not appear at the top of their Play Store list, ”he added.
National herald sent questions regarding these fintech apps to the RBI and the Department of Finance, but received no response. This article will be updated if they respond.
As the government tries to promote digital India and, as part of it, the cashless framework, there is not enough digital knowledge to prevent such cases from happening. There is a strong coercion to give data to the government, as seen in the Aadhaar campaign, as well as the demonization of privacy as an elitist, so people have normalized giving away private data without surrendering account whether it is necessary or not. As a result, digital security and literacy have not reached the masses, unlike digital coercion. Most of the people who download these apps wouldn’t know enough to differentiate these illegal online apps from legitimate lenders.