- FIA’s Cybercrime Wing makes significant progress in arresting individuals involved in online loan app blackmail through raids and registering cases against other suspects.
- Ayaz Khan highlights strict actions taken against illegal apps, including FIRs, arrests, office closures, and freezing bank accounts.
- Growing awareness and reporting on social media, along with initiatives by individuals like Aqeel Noomi and Imran Chaudhry, contribute to combatting fraud, while SECP’s licensing process aims to permanently ban illegal apps.
Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Cybercrime Wing made significant progress in combating online loan apps’ blackmail as they apprehended nine individuals involved in unlawful activity.
The arrests followed raids in the Saidpur Road area, and authorities registered cases against 19 additional suspects.
During the operation, Inspector Badar Munir took action by sealing various company offices located in a commercial plaza. The suspects were found to be part of a scheme that targeted users of these loan apps, as well as their friends and family members. The perpetrators were assigned daily call quotas, making approximately 100 to 150 calls to harass the victims.
Furthermore, the investigation revealed that within the offices, specific sections were dedicated to making “torture calls,” with designations such as D-0, D-1, D-2, DS-1, DS-2, and DS-3.
The suspects gained access to citizens’ personal data through the loan apps and subsequently used it to subject the victims to harassment and blackmail. The seized items during the raids included a significant number of documents, computers, laptops, and SIM cards.
The FIA is actively pursuing the investigation, and more raids are planned to apprehend additional suspects involved in this criminal network.
In a related incident in Karachi, another citizen reported being victimized through an online loan app, but no action has been taken yet in that case.
The crackdown on these fraudulent activities gained momentum after the tragic suicide of Muhammad Masood, a 42-year-old man from Rawalpindi. He faced immense pressure and blackmail from the app employees due to unpaid debts with exorbitant interest rates. The situation highlights the grave consequences and harm caused by such unethical practices.
Blackmailed, Threatened & Exposed
One of the affected individuals, Fawzia* (pseudonym), narrated her distressing experience with these online loan apps. Her husband had taken a loan of Rs 10,000 from one of these apps, but the debt quickly escalated to Rs 10,000. They were forced to sell their household items to repay the debt. The emotional toll was severe, leading her husband to attempt suicide twice.
The problem lies in the misleading terms and conditions offered by these apps, luring users with seemingly favourable interest rates and loan periods. However, soon after taking the loan, borrowers are bombarded with relentless calls, demanding repayments and escalating the loan amount.
The apps also exploit the permissions granted by users during installation, gaining access to personal data, which is later used as leverage for harassment.
Although complaints against these fraudulent companies have been filed numerous times, some government agencies have been slow to act. However, after public outcry and demands for action on social media, authorities have intensified their efforts to combat these deceitful practices.
Understanding the Challenge of Tracing Fraudulent Loan Apps
BBC reached out to the Additional Director of the Cyber Crime Wing, Ayaz Khan, who confirmed that investigations were already underway before the recent arrests. Khan mentioned that the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan regulates these apps, and any unlicensed or violative app will face strict action.
The crackdown on these unscrupulous online loan apps is crucial to protect citizens from falling victim to fraud, harassment, and blackmail. The FIA continues to pursue those involved in these illegal activities, and citizens are urged to report any suspicious apps to the authorities.
Although extremely difficult, Khan assures that significant progress has been made in recent times, particularly following the tragic suicide of Muhammad Masood, leading to accelerated actions against these deceptive apps.
Recent Actions Taken by FIA and SECP
Ayaz Khan reveals the substantial efforts made by FIA and SECP in tackling this issue. Seven FIRs have been registered, 25 individuals apprehended, and seven call centre-style offices of fraudulent companies have been shut down. Additionally, 35 bank accounts associated with these criminal operations have been frozen.
Strict Cybercrime Laws to Counter Image Editing Blackmail
Ayaz Khan emphasizes the severity of cybercrime laws to combat image editing and blackmail, whereby offenders can face up to five years of imprisonment as a non-bailable offence, along with fines.
Growing Awareness and Reporting
Awareness about the fraudulent practices of these apps has increased dramatically, thanks to the viral spread of Muhammad Masood’s phone recordings on social media. As a result, more citizens are now reporting such cases to the FIA and Cybercrime offices.
Initiatives by Aqeel Noomi and Imran Chaudhry
Aqeel Noomi and Imran Chaudhry have been actively raising awareness about these deceptive apps. Aqeel has created a YouTube channel to guide people on safeguarding themselves against blackmail, while Imran has been protesting in front of government institutions’ offices, demanding action against these apps.
Tips for Borrowers to Avoid Fraud
To ensure borrowing from licensed apps, potential borrowers should visit the SECP website and check the whitelist for approved apps. Only grant necessary permissions during app installation, listen carefully to audio explanations of terms, and understand the interest rates before taking a loan. Borrowers should commit to repayment only if they are confident they can meet the specified deadlines.
SECP’s Licensing Process and Action against Illegal Apps
Khaleda Habib, Secretary Director of the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, explains SECP’s thorough licensing process for non-banking companies. The SECP collaborates with relevant stakeholders to identify illegal apps, take action against them, and block their operations. Google has played a vital role in blocking 65 illegal apps and implementing new policies requiring licenses for apps to operate.
Permanently Banning Illegal Apps
While SECP’s primary role is supervisory, Khaleda Habib assures continuous efforts to identify and block illegal apps. SECP will persist in taking action against these fraudulent entities to safeguard consumers from falling victim to their scams.
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