Inside the Instant Loan App Scam blackmailing Indians with Nudes

A blackmail scam is using instant loan apps to blackmail Indians with fake nude pictures, leading to tragic conclusions.

Inside the Instant Loan App Scam blackmailing Indians with Nudes f

“The customer then pays because of the shame."

A blackmail scam is using instant loan apps to entrap and humiliate people across India and other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America with nude pictures.

The scam has proved fatal, with at least 60 Indian citizens taking their own lives after being abused and threatened.

One person who witnessed this ordeal was Astha Sinhaa.

She woke up to her aunt’s panicked voice on the phone:

“Don’t let your mother leave the house.”

The 17-year-old was terrified to find her mother Bhoomi in the next room, crying and frantic.

Astha recalled: “She was breaking apart.”

The Mumbai-based property lawyer started telling her daughter where all the important documents and contacts were and seemed desperate to leave the house.

Astha’s aunt told her: “Don’t let her out of your sight. Because she will end her life.”

Astha knew her mother was getting some strange calls and that she owed somebody money, but she did not know Bhoomi had suffered months of harassment and psychological torture.

Bhoomi had fallen victim to a global scam that uses blackmail to make a profit.

There are many apps that promise hassle-free loans in minutes.

Not all are predatory but many – once downloaded – harvest the victim’s contacts, photos and ID cards, and use that information later to extort them.

When customers do not repay on time, they share this information with a call centre where agents are trained to harass and humiliate people into repayment.

Inside the Instant Loan App Scam blackmailing Indians with Nudes

At the end of 2021, Bhoomi had borrowed Rs. 47,000 (£460) from several loan apps while she waited for her salary to come through.

The money arrived almost immediately but a big chunk had been deducted in charges.

Seven days later, Bhoomi was due to repay but she still had not been paid, so she borrowed from other apps.

The debt and interest increased until she owed about Rs. 2 million (£19,000).

Recovery agents then started calling, insulting and abusing Bhoomi. Even when she paid them, they claimed she was lying.

Bhoomi received up to 200 calls a day.

The agents allegedly knew where she lived and sent her a picture of a dead body as a warning.

As the abuse escalated, they threatened to message her 486 contacts, telling them she was a thief. When they threatened to tarnish her daughter’s reputation too, Bhoomi could no longer sleep.

A BBC investigation found Bhoomi borrowed from friends, family and more apps.

Bhoomi eventually repaid all the money but Asan Loan continued to call her.

One day, a colleague called her over to his desk and showed her a nude pornographic picture of her. The picture had been photoshopped but the shame caused Bhoomi to collapse.

It had been sent by Asan Loan to all of her phone contacts.

That was when Bhoomi thought of committing suicide.

According to the BBC, at least 60 people in India have committed suicide after being harassed by loan apps.

Most were in their 20s and 30s while four were teenagers.

The BBC tracked down a young man who had worked as a debt recovery agent for call centres working for multiple loan apps.

Rohan* said he had been troubled by the abuse he had witnessed.

He said: “It would haunt me all night.”

To help expose the instant loan app scam, Rohan applied for a job in two different call centres – Majesty Legal Services and Callflex Corporation – and spent weeks filming undercover.

His videos captured agents harassing customers.

One woman said: “Behave or I will smash you.”

She accused the customer of incest and when he hung up, she laughed.

Another told a client he should prostitute his mother to repay the loan.

The worst abuse happened at Callflex Corporation, just outside Delhi, where agents routinely used obscene language to humiliate and threaten customers.

They were directed by managers, including one called Vishal Chaurasia.

Chaurasia explained that once someone took out a loan, the apps gave access to the contacts in their phone.

Callflex Corporation is hired to recover the money and if a payment is missed, the company starts harassing the customer and then their contacts.

Chaurasia said his employees are free to say what they want to the customers as long as the loans are repaid.

Chaurasia added: “The customer then pays because of the shame. You’ll find at least one person in his contact list who can destroy his life.”

Kirni Mounika was one tragic victim of the scam.

The 24-year-old civil servant was set to do a Masters in Australia.

One day in 2020, she went to work as usual. But later that day, she took her own life.

When police reviewed her phone and bank statements, they found she had borrowed money from 55 different loan apps.

It began with a Rs. 10,000 (£97) loan and spiralled to more than 30 times that.

Police say she was harassed via calls and vulgar messages. Agents also began messaging her contacts.

What upset her father the most was that she did not tell him what was going on.

He said: “We could have easily arranged the money.”

As he took his daughter’s body home from the hospital, her phone rang and he answered to an obscenity-laden rant.

He said: “They told us she has to pay. We told them she was dead.”

He wondered who these monsters could be.

Speaking about the fake nude picture, Bhoomi said:

“That message actually stripped me naked in front of the entire world. I lost my self-respect, my morality, my dignity, everything in a second.”

The image was shared with lawyers, architects, government officials, elderly relatives and friends of her parents – people who would never look at her in the same way again.

She continued:

“It has tarnished the core of me, like if you join a broken glass, there will still be cracks on it.”

Bhoomi revealed that she has been ostracised by some of her neighbours and some family members.

Although she filed a police report, she heard nothing back.

To stop the calls, Bhoomi destroyed her SIM card. When Astha started receiving calls, she also destroyed hers.

She told friends, family and colleagues to ignore the calls and messages and, eventually, they all but stopped.

The instant loan scam has links to China after Parshuram Takve and his Chinese wife Liang Tian Tian were arrested for running a loan recovery business in Pune.

After being charged with extortion, intimidation and abetment of suicide, they went on the run.

The BBC investigation soon came across a Chinese businessman named Li Xiang, who was running loan apps in India, Mexico and Colombia.

He told undercover reporters:

“We are still operating now, just not letting Indians know we are a Chinese company.”

In 2021, Li’s companies were raided by Indian police who were investigating harassment by loan apps and their accounts were frozen.

“You need to understand that because we aim to recover our investment quickly, we certainly don’t pay local taxes, and the interest rates we offer violate local laws.”

Li claimed that there were over 3,000 staff in several companies across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who were providing post-loan services.

Dhiren is a News & Content Editor who loves all things football. He also has a passion for gaming and watching films. His motto is to "Live life one day at a time".

*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity

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