Hyderabad: Google has removed about 100 instant online loans Apps from December 2020 till 20th January 2021, the central government said.

This comes after several cases of 'suicides' were reported from Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and other Indian states due to the harassment by online moneylenders.

Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology took up the matter with Google for prevention, detection, and removal of such fraudulent Apps from their Playstore.

Interestingly, only upon being notified by the Indian law enforcement agencies, Google removed 100 money lending apps that were possibly not in compliance with legal and regulatory framework.

Sanjay Dhotre, minister of state for electronics and IT (MeitY) said they had received a number of public grievances against online instant loan applications available on Google Playstore.

The complaints were mainly related to high-interest rates, alleged collection of personal data and its misuse, fraudulent and unlawful practices of physical threats, and use of other coercive methods for recovery of the loan. Few cases have also been filed in court.

Google's response:

Google told MeitY that personal loan applications available on the Google Play Store are bound by the terms of the "Google Play Developer Distribution Agreement", which inter alia, requires app developers to use the Play Store only for purposes that are permitted by applicable law, regulation, or generally accepted practices or guidelines in the relevant jurisdictions.

As per the "Google Play Developer Policy", financial services apps that offer personal loans are required to disclose key information such as minimum and maximum periods of repayment, maximum annual percentage rate, and a representative example of the total loan cost. To help further ensure that users are not subject to unfair terms, only personal loan apps with full repayment required in greater than or equal to 60 days from the date the loan is issued are permitted.

Suicides:

Twenty-nine-year-old techie P. Sunil used to work as a software engineer in a private company in Madhapur, Hyderabad. Due to Covid-19, he lost his job and since then he was jobless. In order to overcome his debts and to meet regular expenses, he started taking loans from online instant loan apps from his mobile phone. He took nearly 2 lakh from various instant loan apps.

As he failed to repay the amount, some app companies started blackmailing and threatening him by contacting his family members and friends via social media platforms such as WhatsApp. His father and wife got calls from the app companies declaring him a defaulter and threatened of making a repayment. Feeling harassed, Sunil committed suicide at Kismathpur on December 16.

This was the first death by suicide owing to the harassment of online apps in Telangana. Later several others also ended their lives. Rattled over the suicides, Telangana police carried out a spree of raids in Gurgaon, Pune, Maharastra, and Bengaluru and arrested five Chinese nationals serving as directors of these instant loan apps.

Modus Operandi

The gang offer small loans through different apps and collect money by harassing and blackmailing the victims. The loan apps are available on Google Play.

The companies develop their own apps and place them in Google Play store for easy download. Some of the apps include Cash Mama, Loan Zone, Dhana Dhan Loan, Cash Up, Cash Bus, Mera Loan, and Cash Zone. Cash Bus and Cash Up were sold to Asia Inno Networks Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, and Mera Loan and Cash Zone were bought by Blue Shield Fintech Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore.

After issuing a loan to customers from their app for a period of seven days, they divide all the customers into different categories. On due date, it is called D-0 bucket, after the due date from day 1 to day 3 it is S1 bucket, from day 4 to 10 it is an S2 bucket, and from day 11 to 30 it is S3 bucket.

To recover the loan from customers, they practice different methods depending on the bucket the customers are in. Lesser the number of days after the due date, the milder the treatment. More the number of days after the due date, the harsher the treatment. The companies also access the customers' contacts and send WhatsApp messages to their friends and family to defame the defaulter.

Following harassment, at least seven people who have taken instant loans have died by suicide.

Telangana's cybercrime police issued an advisory asking people not to download instant loan apps from the Playstore or other sources that do not have proper licenses from government authorities.

"Don't give your personnel and bank credentials to anyone. Please go through the terms and conditions and verify the licenses of the companies offering the loans and verify whether they have obtained permission from the concerned authorities like RBI and district collector," the advisory read.

It further warned people from downloading apps that ask for access to contacts, files, and galleries.

Where to lodge a complaint

Any incidents/complaints can be reported to (www.cybercrime.gov.in). This portal is routed automatically to the Law Enforcement Agencies of respective States/UTs based on the information provided by the public.


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