Rogue Squadron Alert: Don’t Fall Prey To Lending Apps On Google Play Store!

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Whatever the world it may be, there always is a constant battle going on between the forces of good and evil. And despite the strictest vigil, due to the unfixing nature of the app world, something always manages to sneak by. Such is also the case of the unauthorised apps that have become a cause for foremost concern.

According to worrying reports, up to 10 Indian lending apps on Google’s Play Store have been found guilty of breaching Google Play Store’s norms on loan repayment lengths. The apps, all of which have seen million-plus downloads, were all on the prowl for vulnerable borrowers, as attested to by a closer review of such services and more than a dozen users.

As the timeline goes, four among the tainted list of apps were taken down with immediate effect from the Play Store on Dec 18. This was as soon as Reuters was able to flag clearly to Google that these apps were in fact violating the ban on the clause offering personal loans requiring full repayment in 60 days or less.

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As it stands, at least six such apps still remain available on the Play Store, on the pretext that the loan repayment tenures offered by them swoop to as low as a week. This has been made public by some of the borrowers who were able to provide screenshots of loan details from all six apps. 

Upon closer inspection, the scheming is particularly evident when one calculates the interest rates that these apps were charging from gullible users. A percentage of these apps were adding on processing fees up to Rs 2,000 rupees on loans of amounts less than Rs 10,000. All these loans had tenures of 30 days or under, according to the 15 borrowers which made this information known. What’s worse, including other charges such as one-off registration costs, etc., borrowers were charged with ungainly interest rates ranging as high as 60% per week, as per their loan details.

Some of the prominent names which went under the water were – 10MinuteLoan, Ex-Money, and Extra Mudra. In the case of StuCred however, it was allowed back on the Play Store this past week after it complied with the mandated loan period and strenuously denied engaging in any wrongdoing.

Even after ongoing investigations, several of these loan sharks still advertise to users that the minimum repayment length offered by them is well over three months. The screenshots and evidence from multiple borrowers tell us that reality is at the far end of the spectrum, as their tenures last a mere week or 15 to the max.

How they leech out customers

First offering loans to users at astoundingly high-interest rates, then allegedly using harassment and threats to re-gather their lent sum; these are the alleged tactics being used to tap vulnerable customers in hordes.

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The method using which they sneak by is fairly common and inconspicuous. The majority of these apps primarily ask for permissions like viewing the user’s phone gallery or reading their text messages, which at first glance looks like information seemingly unrelated to money lending. However, the troublesome scenario, while far from rosy, goes on to inform that many of the flagged apps have do not even have a credible website for starters, and even lesser bother with mentioning an address. Far from rosy.

Many concerned organizations have already raised their voice for Google Play to incorporate stricter privacy guidelines for monitoring the working of fintech apps. Mandatory requirement of website links, the inclusion of real addresses are some of the changes mooted to be enforced, seeing the appalling number of apps operating sans legitimate tie-ups with Indian banks or NBFCs.

Does the blame fall squarely on the pandemic?

What is disconcerting is that exploitative, instant money lending apps have been mushrooming in the pandemic hit year. With loan defaulters surging, many have turned towards these preying fintech organizations in order to gather quick relief from their debt troubles.

The fact that Indian banks offer personal loans with annual interest rates of 10-20%, much lower than those in the need of the quick buck tend to forget. Typically, they usually do not have to be repaid in full for at least a year, a fact that needs to be put out strongly among all sections of the Indian citizenry.

The spread of these malicious apps has been in every corner of the country. Only recently, Telangana police had asked Google to remove 158 unauthorized lending apps from Google Play Store. In recognition of many of these unauthorized lending apps, Google was also forced to remove five digital lending applications from the Play Store in November this year. All were said to be in line with reported complaints of using illegal and intimidating practices to stockpile money from customers. OkCash, Go Cash, Flip Cash, ECash, and SnapIt Loan were the apps removed by Google at the time. With 98% of India’s smartphone market flush with android phones, Google’s overwatch needs to keep pace.

Even though RBI is aware of these proliferating apps, there is a strong need for it to do more beyond coming up with measures for fintech apps to follow and guidelines for the citizenry. As “apps that expose users to deceptive or harmful financial products and services” are barred from Google Play Store, so should the measures by the RBI bar these harmful apps from entrenching themselves in India.

Stay tuned for more updates. And meanwhile, guard your personal data with utmost caution.

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