How predatory lending apps handle call centers for blackmail victims

Call center executives learn to be persistent and intrusive. But in “call centers” run by operators of predatory lending apps, these executives are trained in threats, harassment, extortion and even photo manipulation to blackmail those demanding to repay the loan. inflated loan on time.

The sleazy companies that run these call centers disguise the operation as an advertising agency, marketing company, or market research company. These call centers mushroomed in large numbers after the pandemic as the government relaxed rules for ‘other service providers’. The Department of Telecommunications registers call centers as “Other Service Providers” and all call centers must be duly registered. But the call center run by these illegal lending apps exploits loopholes.

Unlike legitimate call centers that operate out of business parks, these Chinese-run lending apps are set up in areas that typically don’t have many offices. The personnel working in these call centers are spread over several levels and work according to their “bucket”.

A bucket signifies the level by which a client is ascended when he refuses or fails to repay the borrowed amount plus interest. A customer/debtor can be escalated to the highest level within seven days, after which these call center workers go to great lengths to intimidate them. The tactics include threatening to send fake photos and vulgar messages to their contacts.

In a special series recently, News18 exposed how predatory loan apps designed by Chinese nationals were trapping Indians, driving some to suicide and posing security risks with access to data. The series had revealed how the people behind these apps threatened defaulters with social humiliation, intimidating them with drafts of vulgar photos and messages that they claimed would be sent to their contacts.

Organize SIM cards

One such call centre, disguised as a market research firm, was raided by Delhi police in Sector 3 of Dwarka. Four people accused of leading the operations have been arrested and around 150 people working there have been summoned for questioning. During the investigation, it was discovered that the company had purchased 300 SIM cards in its name to hand out to call center staff.

News18 spoke to state police forces, including those in Delhi, Mumbai, Odisha and Telangana, to find out how these companies managed to get their hands on these numerous SIM cards without hassle. It turns out that once they launched the business, the carriers approached small-scale vendors for the SIM cards. Acquiring such SIM cards requires a corporate document and GST registration. These fake call centers call SIM cards a “gift” for their employees. These cards are registered on the address of the company.

In addition to SIM cards, the company provided staff with basic mobile phones, of the type used in 2000. Delhi police recovered 141 phones in one such case, 136 of which were basic phones. Call center workers use smartphones, but access is limited.

WhatsApp Web in incognito mode

These call center executives have been found to use WhatsApp calling and chatting even while using the web version of WhatsApp in browser incognito mode. Telangana police officials told News18 that in one such case, call center staff logged in from their ID cards, after which a “team leader” logged in to the WhatsApp web. on multiple computers using a single mobile phone.

“After logging into the systems with their login ID and password, all employees used to get phones that they used to call people. Meanwhile, a team leader was logging into WhatsApp on different systems and staff were using this account to threaten people,” a senior Telangana police official told News18.

Separate team to transform photos

The criminal enterprise run by these Chinese lenders and the call centers associated with them also include people and teams expert in morphing and photo editing. Businesses have access to customer photos in the requested permissions bracket when a person downloads and starts using these lending apps. The same goes for access to contacts.

If a customer fails to pay the sum due – principal plus interest – these photos, edited to be obscene, are sent to him with the threat that they will also be transmitted to his contacts. In some cases, call center operators have been found to hire separate staff and set up separate teams to process and edit photos. In some cases, call center staff followed up on the threat.

“In cases across India, contacts of victims have been found to receive vulgar photos. These photos were first sent to another team, who within minutes edited them with the face of the female victim,” a senior Delhi police official, whose team arrested 150, told News18. call center executives.

The different “buckets”

Call center workers work according to escalation levels. The basic level is labeled A-1 or M-1, in which call center employees call defaulting customers and threaten them with refunds. If clients refuse or are unable to reimburse immediately, the file is forwarded to A-2 or M-2. At this point, another executive is using WhatsApp to call and text customers.

The next level is to transform photos and send messages to the victim’s contacts. The levels increase in this way and reach the highest level in seven days, at which time all the tactics used from the beginning are launched against the failing client – threats, abusive messages, image transformation and sending humiliating messages and content to their contacts.

No access to server

No member of staff is granted general access to the servers which store debtor details. They can only access the data after logging in using their username and password. Officials who took down the call centers and are involved in the investigation say the servers are located outside. Staff can only access data after logging in. Once logged out, all data is erased from their computers. There is also no option to save data and to ensure that this special software programmed in China is used.

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