Loan recovery agents who would use threats over the phone, verbal abuse and sometimes physical violence to recover money are now resorting to blackmail with morphed obscene pictures of friends, relatives and even spouses, police said.
At times, people who are subjected to such blackmail are neither aware of the loan nor close to the borrower, the police said.
The police have come across several such cases where people have received WhatsApp messages containing their morphed photographs or been threatened over the phone that their children would be kidnapped, attempts that officers say are aimed at pressuring them to get the defaulter to repay the loan.
Officers say this type of operations are far more sinister than the conventional ways of recovering money through agents as the new techniques involve personal data mining and have a long-term social impact on victims.
“It is surprising to see how the person who is sending these WhatsApp messages with an intention to recover money has got hold of contact details of the borrower’s family members, friends and acquaintances. This involves access to personal data which cannot be procured through legal means,” said an officer at Lalbazar.
Earlier, the institutions or people who gave loans would send recovery agents to the offices and houses of the defaulters to collect the money. In many such cases, the borrower would approach the police and get the agents arrested for extortion.
But now, instead of physical visits or forcible recovery, many have started to malign borrowers by involving those whose names are on the contact list of their phones.
This may involve cyber offences such as phishing, stalking contacts and friends on social media or mirroring the borrower’s phone with malicious spyware.
“Unlike previous ways of recovery where the impact was limited to physical hurt or mental harassment of the individual, these new ways of cyberbullying and loan recovery could have socio-economic impact on both the borrower as well as his acquaintances whom the agents are targeting,” said an officer.
A few days ago, a mother of one who lives in the Bidhannagar police commissionerate area received a WhatsApp message from an unknown number.
The message said one of her family friends who had taken a loan from the sender of the message was circulating her photographs with objectionable text messages.
“The message also claimed that the man was not repaying the huge loans he had taken,” said an officer of the Bidhannagar cyber cell.
The woman’s first reaction, the officer said, was to think that the friend was actually circulating her photograph. But later she thought the person who had sent her the message could be the actual culprit.
“It was a deliberate ploy to malign the man who was apparently not repaying the loan. By involving this woman, the sender of the message possibly tried to put added pressure on the borrower to return the money. But in the process the woman who had got nothing to do with the loan became a victim of cyber crime,” said an officer.
Based on her complaint, the Bidhannagar cyber police have started a case against the unknown person who sent her the message. The man who, according to the message, was not repaying the loan lodged a separate complaint with the Barrackpore police, in whose jurisdiction he lives.
Another such case was reported from Netaji Nagar off Tollygunge a few weeks ago. A homemaker received messages from four unknown numbers threatening her to circulate her morphed photographs if she did not repay the money he had taken from the sender.
The woman and her husband told the police that some of her neighbours, too, received WhatsApp messages from the same numbers, which said the woman was not repaying the loan he had taken from the sender.
The police said both cases were being investigated.