"I get threatening calls and messages everyday."
Digital loan scams are becoming more prevalent in India and they are leaving citizens scared for their lives.
One victim is Raj*, a resident of Pune.
He took out a loan for £87 in March 2022, having been enticed by the quick and easy loan approval process.
All he had to was download a mobile app and provide a copy of his identity card to qualify.
He quickly received some money but only half the amount he requested. Three days later, the company demanded he pays back three times the amount they loaned him.
Raj’s debts increased as he took out loans from other finance apps. He eventually owed over £4,000 spread across 33 different apps.
Many of those running the apps threatened Raj and he was too scared to go to police.
The people running the apps gained access to all the contacts on his phone and his pictures and threatened to send nude pictures of his wife to everyone on his phone.
To pay off the fraudsters, he sold all of his wife’s jewellery but is still scared.
Raj said: “I don’t think they will let me go. I am scared for my life. I get threatening calls and messages everyday.”
Between January 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, a study by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) identified 600 illegal lending apps.
During that period, Maharashtra state recorded the highest number of complaints relating to lending apps, with 572 reported to the RBI.
Yashasvi Yadav, special inspector general of police, Maharashtra Cyber Department, said:
“These apps promise hassle-free loans, quick money, and people are lured into them, not realising that their phones get hacked, their data gets stolen and their privacy is comprised.
“I would say it’s a scam which is spreading because so many people in India are not eligible for [legitimate bank] loans.”
The apps are often run via servers in China, but the scammers are usually based in India.
Inspector Yadav says many scammers have been caught by tracking their bank accounts and phone numbers.
But one fraudster told the BBC that it was relatively easy to evade detection.
“The founders of apps, or people like us who work for them, are very difficult to trace as we use all fake papers to get a mobile number.
“We operate from all across India. Most of us don’t have a fixed location to work from. All I need is a laptop and a phone connection.
“One operator like me has more than 10 numbers to use for threatening the customer.”
This scammer revealed that they are trained to find “gullible and needy” people.
Victims are loaned half of what they requested. Then, the scammer will demand much more. If the victim fails to pay, more pressure is applied.
The scammer said: “The first step is to harass. Then threaten.
“Then the actual game starts of blackmailing the person, as we have loanees’ phone details.”
“Many don’t go to authorities out of shame and fear.”
Threats include telling family and colleagues about the victim’s debts. But more serious ones include distributing porn videos using the victim’s image.
In May 2021, the Indian government urged Google to review the apps available on its Play store.
But despite that, the scammers move elsewhere, using text messages to advertise.
Following its study of digital loans, the RBI has asked the government to come up with new legislation to help curb illegal lending.
It includes a central agency at the RBI which could verify apps.
The government is expected to respond within the coming weeks.
But for some, the new rules will come in too late.
According to his family, Sandeep Korgaonkar took his own life on May 4, 2022, due to the threats and harassment he was receiving from loan scammers.
His brother Dattatreya, Sandeep had not even taken out a loan, he had just downloaded the app.
Soon after, the scammers began calling Sandeep’s co-workers, telling them he was in debt. They also edited his pictures to make nude photographs and forwarded them to 50 of his colleagues.
Dattatreya said: “The harassment did not stop, even after he filed a police complaint.
“His life had become a living hell, he could not sleep or eat.”
The police are now investigating the case.