Cash-strapped? End of the month and borrowings are your only way out till the next salary hits your account? You are the ideal trap for Chinese loan apps which promise an easy credit, once you have filled in a form. However, Gujarat Police warns against the scammers on the simple surmise: no one lends money to any one unknown.
“Quick microloans are their USP. Most of these apps have been set up by Chinese scammers who use the programme to get into the target’s phone, steal personal data and then, withdraw their money. In 2022, Gujarat Police identified 885 such apps, of which, 419 removed from a known android store,” shares inspector Manish Bhankharia, cyber-wing, Gujarat CID.
The police identified the apps on basis of 932 complaints filed with the cybercrime helpline 1930 since March 2022. A study revealed Chinese and Nepalese scammers set up these apps and host them on servers in China or Hong Kong.
Messages are sent asking people to download the mobile apps if they want to avail of microloans. The mobile user must consent to give the app access to their contacts, images, videos and all other digital content on their phone to receive loan approval, say police.
“Not everyone gets the loan. The cyber crooks scan through the mobile user’s photographs and messages. Once they are convinced that the personal data can be used to extort money, they will advance a loan to their target,” he adds.
These apps gained popularity during the pandemic (late 2021 onwards) when salary cuts and job losses were rampant.
“Usually, the loan amount begins onwards Rs 15,000 and is offered at 15-20% interest. When the target returns the amount on time, the amount is increased. If a target uses the app successively, he/she identifies as a vulnerable catch. Now begins the extortion. Not only is personal data used to hack into the target’s bank accounts, extortion also begins. Cyber fraudsters morph the target’s photographs or videos and send them to people on the target’s contact list. A web link is sent from a helpline. Clicking on this link enables control of the end-user’s phone and all private data, including photographs, videos, frequently visited places, websites, and documents. The crooks use this to line-up, new victims,” he elaborates.
A pitfall of sorts, the apps are best stayed away from, cautions constable Vijay Desai. “Each time we got Google to remove the Chinese app from Play Store, it would reappear under another name. For instance, if an app called GoRupee was taken down, it would return as GoRupiya,” he stated.
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