The Patriot Institute of Journalism and Arts (PIJA), Lance Magazine is a public-centric independent media organisation dedicated to fighting injustice, fostering social justice and community development through the telling and retelling of the marginalised-oriented stories.
Predatory Lending & Privacy Invasion: Nigeria Loan Apps Continue to Wax Stronger Flouting FCCPC Rules
UltraNaira, one of the Nigeria loan apps, intentionally provides borrowers with a loan amount that is less than what was initially agreed upon but insist on collecting amount greater than the amount offered.
Stephen Owolabi (not real name) was a tertiary institution classmate of one of the UltraNaira borrowers. On Thursday he reached out to The PIJAlance with a “threatening message” sent to him twice by UltraNaira, one of the Nigeria loan apps, regarding a person on his contact list loan. The message reads: “Kindly inform (name withheld for privacy purposes) to repay his loan with us before 5pm today, to avoid detrimental actions. *UltraNaira.”
This person, Owolabi claimed was his tertiary institution former classmate, five years ago.
Owolabi said was never a debtor or ever heard of UltraNaira until their messages came in. “How they got my contact tells me that they invaded my former classmate’s privacy, but this would not be the first time of such Apps,” he said.
When Owolabi reached out to his friend in question, he explained that a sum of 5k loans was sent to his frozen bank account. He had to seek the help of his bank to unfreeze his account and since April 25, his bank account has yet to be unfrozen. “I had visited my bank twice,” Owolabi said the UltraNaira victim stated.
He added that UltraNaira is still expecting him to pay back 9k which was very far from the initial agreement.
Predatory Lending and Privacy Invasion
Predatory lending involves a lender, often referred to as a loan shark, intentionally providing borrowers with a loan amount that is less than what was initially agreed upon. This practice is typically accompanied by high interest rates, hidden fees, and exploitative terms that result in borrowers paying significantly more than they borrowed.
Predatory lending is considered unethical and, in many jurisdictions, illegal. It preys on individuals who may be in desperate financial situations and have limited access to traditional lending options. Loan sharks take advantage of their vulnerability, trapping borrowers in cycles of debt and making it difficult for them to repay the loans.
Invasion of privacy also involves the infringement upon an individual’s protected right to privacy through a variety of intrusive or unwanted actions. Such invasions of privacy can range from physical encroachments onto private property to the wrongful disclosure of confidential information or images.
Privacy Right in Nigeria is defined and protected under section 37 of the Nigeria Constitution 1999, as amended which says that “the privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.”
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) was also established under the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Act (2019) to regulate the infringement of privacy, predatory lending of online loan sharks and other related abuse of rights and harassment of Nigerians cases.
Part III, section 17 subsection (g) of the FCCPA empowers the commission to “eliminate anti-competitive agreements, misleading unfair, deceptive or unconscionable marketing, trading and business practices.” But despite all these, some online loan sharks are still operating using predatory lending and invasion of privacy schemes as priorities on Nigerians.
One of the loan apps, UltraNaira, has prioritised invasion of privacy and sharing personal data to people outside the debtors’ consent, as a means of demanding payment from its loan defaulters, PIJAlance report.
One of the victim-debtors from UltraNaira also alleged the app as a scam, established only to fraudulently defraud Nigerians.
In a post on Twitter, the lender identified as @Kabirus43871625 tweeted “This UltraNaira Loan is a fraud app my people in Nigeria we agreed to give me 30100 loan to pay 32207 for 1 week instead of them credit me 30100 I was credited 2107 and then want to collect 32207 who does that pls my people stay safe if the app oOoOO UltraNaira app loan.”
In essence Kabiru noted Ultranaira agreed to lend him N30,100 to pay N32,207 but credited him N2,107 and wanted to collect N32,207.
Honey Sassi another tweep, conceded in a different tweet, writing “U (you) see this loan app helacash they are big thieves if you ever take a loan from (them) they will say you will be credited 20k u (you) get 8k at (the) end and they expect you to pay 35k (.) criminals now they say is ultranaira Keep repostn @latest_naija @nairaland @NaijaNews @Naija_PR @Naijahotnewsnow” but no one has reposted or commented on this until the time of filing this report, leaving Ultranaira thriving with its sinister schemes.
UltraNaira or Helecash is one of the Nigerian loan apps delving into the most sinister way of demanding their loans payment from defaulting-debtors. They invade their privacy, spam their contact list and send unsolicited messages to them regarding loan payment of their debtors. Some go to the extent of publicly displaying their pictures and branding them as scammers.
When Owolabi provided the number that sent him the message, PIJAlance tracked the number with the use of Truecaller and found that the number is originally registered with the name “Nkash Limited.”
Nkash or Ngkash is also a loan app in Nigeria, notorious for invasion of privacy. Both Nkash and Ultranaira are not part of the FCCPC 173 approved list of online loan sharks in Nigeria. But they’re still operating. They are even available on Google for download, despite negative reviews of them by users.
There have been numerous complaints on UltraNaira as a “scammer loan app” both on Google Play Store and on social media platforms. But none of Google or FG has made a move to probe UltraNaira based on borrowers’ complaints. It is either Ultranaira is obscured from the face of FCCPC and Google or maybe both are contributing to abetting Ultranaira.
Ultranaira or Nkash number has been reported 10 times as spam on Truecaller.
A tweep @fjonpoint tweeted “@ultranaira: Highly fraudulent organisation. Hidden charges, Abnormally high service fees and you will always be short paid on whatever amount you request for. Imagine taking a loan of N11800 to repay N19300!!! Abeg who does that????”
@EffiongNnenna also wrote, “@cenbank If I don’t get your payment today I will personally sell off your BVN or maybe when I start posting your pictures as HIV positive you will do the right thing. This message was sent by ultranaira with phone number 09046727822”
Fake Loan Apps In Nigeria and what The Federal Government is doing
The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in continuation of its efforts to address the alarming rates of data privacy abuse by money lending operators, has entered into a strategic partnership with the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC). Section 17(a) of the FCCPA, 2019 empowers the Commission to administer and enforce provisions of every Nigerian law with respect to competition and protection of consumers.
NITDA has therefore found the FCCPC as a key stakeholder in its efforts to rein in the activities of some micro-money lenders who have formed a penchant for abuse of personal data of Nigerians.
These operators execute this by abusing their personal data, breaching their privacy and sharing it with others who are not part of the initial contract.
The Agency has said it has received over 40 petitions from members of the public on the personal data abuse of some lending companies.
As an Agency expected to focus on using its mandate to empower Nigerians and make them active players in the digital economy, NITDA has said it is very concerned about the worrisome effect the nefarious activities of the money lending companies are having on families, friends, and the society at large.
Some of the complainants had contemplated suicide, indicating that government needed to do more to protect vulnerable Nigerians. The partnership with FCCPC has been expected to lead to a more robust and concerted regulatory approach which is believed would ensure that Nigerians get the necessary reprieve from the illegal use of their personal data for money lending operations. But with Ultranaira, it seems the partnership is already a mess.
The Nigerian government has announced that loan apps on the Play Store will no longer be able to access their users’ contacts or photos from May 31, 2023.
This policy is in line with the government’s recent efforts to prevent loan app firms from invading customers’ privacy.
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission had recently registered 173 loan apps out of the 200 operating in Nigeria. 119 were given full approval while 54 were on conditional approvals.
Google, in its April 2023 policy updates, stated that the new policy would provide respite for loan app users in Nigeria and other places where crude loan retrieval methods have become commonplace.
The updated policy prohibits personal loan apps from accessing user contacts or photos. The policy also introduces additional requirements for personal loan apps targeting users in Pakistan, including the submission of country-specific licensing documentation to prove their ability to provide or facilitate personal loans.
The new policy follows Google’s recent announcement of updates to its Developer Programme Policy. This update mandates digital money lenders in Nigeria, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Kenya to conform to regulatory rules or face removal from the Play Store by January 31.
Digital money lenders in Nigeria must adhere to and complete the Limited Interim Regulatory/Registration Framework and Guidelines for Digital Lending, 2022, and obtain a verifiable approval letter from the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to be allowed on the Play Store in Nigeria.
The Chief Executive Officer of the FCCPC, Babatunde Irukera, commended Google’s institutionalization of the regulatory policy, stating that it was a welcome development and consistent with the commission’s position as a regulator.
Read Also: What to do When Loan Sharks Harass You