RAUFU Kareem took a loan from AddMoney, an app owned by Rock Financials Limited listed on the Google Play Store.
While his loan application was being reviewed, Kareem changed his mind. He e-mailed the loan firm to stop the application, and the company promised to address the issue.
The next day, Kareem was credited by the loan firm, leaving him confused since he had requested a cancellation of the loan offer.
Kareem was desperate to pay back the loan, so he visited the firm’s office address on its website to rectify the issue. But his finding was shocking.
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Rock Financials Limited says on its website that its address is located on the second-floor building of No 13 King George V Road, Victoria Island in Lagos State. When he got to the building, other occupants and the property caretaker confirmed to him that Rock Financials had never rented a space in the building.
The ICIR found out the firm operates two other lending apps, AimLoan and AnyLoan, on the Google Play Store, with the same non-existing address.
Checks by The ICIR show that Rock Financials is legally registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) but is unauthorised to lend money to borrowers in the country.
And the firm lists another address, No 3 Ijaiye Road, Ogba, Lagos, on its CAC registration details.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) did not approve the firm as a licensed financial company or microfinance bank to undertake financial operations based on its list of approved finance firms.
Nigerian laws guiding money lending include the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act ( BOFIA) and state lending laws.
States have different laws regulating money lending services but require that money lenders be licensed before operating in their domains.
As soon as Kareem informed his debt officer that his firm’s office location was fake, the company stopped taking his calls and threatened him to pay his loan or face the consequences.
“They have been calling my contacts to force me to pay up interests on a loan I didn’t ask, saying the interest rate would get to N1,000 per day if I don’t comply,” he told The ICIR.
The ICIR reached out to the management of Rock Financials Limited to know why the firm advertises a non-existent office on its website.
The firm failed to respond to e-mails, calls and WhatsApp messages sent to their phone lines.
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However, these loan offers have taken far more from their victims than they give. Some operate online as digital nomads without offices, like Rock Financials, breaching Nigeria’s financial regulations.
Outrageous interests, deception tricks
While Nigerians have been quick to embrace digital loan apps, their interests are at sky-high rates.
Loan apps listed on the Google Play Store offering short-term loans are mandated by Google policy rules to give borrowers no fewer than 60 days from the date of issue to repay any loan.
The three loan apps owned by Rock Financials claim to give users at least 60 days to repay their loans. In reality, the app users are offered one week to pay back their loans against Google policy rules.
According to its advert on the Play Store, Rock Financials Limited charges a maximum interest rate of 18 per cent.
Yet the company’s claim is outrightly false. The ICIR found that they charge between 40 to 100 per cent as interest. Late borrowers are
This deception misleads customers who download its loan apps from the Play Store.
On the Google Play Store, a victim, who identified himself as Olatokunbo Folayan, commented on AngelLoan. He took a loan of N26,500 and was asked to pay N37,500 in seven days.
“I won’t advise anyone to (take their loans), Play Store should check all the people they allow on their platform, govt should ban such app,” he said.
The interest rate Folayan was charged on his loan was 42 per cent. If he were charged the 0.05 per cent daily interest rate as advertised on the Play Store, then Folayan would have paid a total of N26,592 instead of the N37,500.
Another user Mohammed Idayat borrowed N30,000 from AngelLoan and paid N44,000, which included interest a week later. He was charged an interest of 47 per cent.
“If a customer is unable to pay early (AngelLoan), they abuse and rain curses as if they are God. Will not advise anyone to go for this loan app if you don’t want to be ruined,” he said.
Some loan apps offer users false information on their interest rates and loan repayment plan, thereby breaching the Google Play Store policy.
Investigations by The ICIR reveal that LCredit, 9credit, LionCash, Nkash, ForNaira, CycleCash, Cashrain, Mikoloan, Supercash, Xcredit, ICoin, PalmCredit and CashLion are loan firms involved in the deception scheme.
The interest rate for an average commercial bank loan in Nigeria is 24 per cent each year. However, loan apps interest rates are between 75 per cent and 395 per cent per year.
A study by Hinderberg says OPay, a loan app in Nigeria, falsely claims to give a maximum interest rate of 24 per cent on every loan but charge borrowers 438 per cent as interest. Late borrowers pay as high as 876 per cent.
Despite, their non-compliance with Nigerian financial laws and Google Play’s Developer Policy, by lying to customers about their repayment tenure and interest rates, they still operate on the Google app.
In January, Google took down over 30 lending apps in India from its Play Store for failing to prove their compliance with relevant local financial laws.
The ICIR reached out to Google’s Global Communications & Public Affairs Officer Elijah Lawal on his social media handles to explain why Google was yet to clamp down on loan apps in Nigeria, breaching Google Play’s Developer Policies.
At the time of filing this report, he was yet to respond.
Debt shaming enterprise
Loan apps in Nigeria are mostly unregulated, as debt collectors exploit unconventional techniques to shame defaulting borrowers to retrieve their loans.
Tobilola, who did not reveal his surname for fear of reprisal, is a debt collection agent of LCredit and one of the few people with first-hand knowledge of their operations.
He is a nightmare to loan defaulters. His job is to call friends and family of loan defaulters, employing unorthodox means to ensure they pay back their loans.
There is no official number of how many loan firms exist in Nigeria; however, debt collection is a critical part of their operations.
Speaking to The ICIR, a debt collector at LCredit owned by a Chinese firm, Cashigo International, revealed that it split its debt collectors into five teams.
The teams are headed by a team leader who assigns customers to the debt collectors based on the duration of time they have defaulted on their loans.
“We are divided into five groups. Most debt collectors prefer the first to the third team because their focus is on short-term overdue loans, which are easier to retrieve than long-term loans.
“We are assigned 400 customers per week to each debt collector at the call centre, and they don’t care whatever you do to recover overdue loans from customers,” he said.
The agents get a weekly bonus of three per cent of the total amount they recover if they meet their weekly target.
The monthly salary of a debt collection agent at LCredit is N50,000, while the top three performing agents for the week receive between N10,000 to N15,000 as an incentive.
Femi told The ICIR that clients who defaulted on their loans often asked for more time to escape the constant harassment, but they would continue anyway with the debt collector’s eyes on the bonus.
“The team leaders always threaten to sack us if we don’t meet the target, and when they verbally abuse us, we tend to transfer the aggression on the customers using any means possible to recover the company’s money,” he said.
In November 2021, the Federal Government set up a joint committee of regulatory agencies to tackle violations of consumer rights and unfair practices in the money lending industry.
The agencies to lead the investigation included the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Others involved in the investigation are Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).
Four months later, the operations of these illegal loan sharks have continued unabated without any sanctions from the regulatory agencies in the country.
The spokesperson of the FCCPC, Ondaje Idagwu, told The ICIR that the joint committee would clamp down on the loan sharks after sorting complaints sent by the public.
“The joint committee met and agreed on how to proceed, but what I can say is that there is going to be enforcement work very shortly to shut down these loan companies, especially the illegal ones.
“What we are doing currently is gathering evidence and compiling our e-mails on the complaints of people affected by the actions of these companies and this process takes time,” he said.
The e-mail address to contact the task force on complaints against loan apps is firstname.lastname@example.org.
A major decision taken against loan apps in Nigeria took place in August 2021, when NITDA fined Soko Lending Company the sum of N10 million for sending threatening messages to borrowers, a practice regarded as a privacy invasion.
With regulatory agencies yet to act, online advocacy groups have sprung up to help victims of loan firms devise responses to harassing calls.
Over 1,500 victims joined a private Facebook group, Mobile Loan Apps Debts Victims in Nigeria, to support each other and bully debt collectors that harass them with calls and messages.
Another group called Say No to Sokoloan, LCredit ETC on Facebook boasts of over 1,700 members set up to provide psychological support for victims of loan app harassment.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Consumer Protection Regulation does not permit a financial institution to contact friends, employers or relatives of a loan defaulter except consent is granted.
Most loan apps flagrantly disregard the consumer protection regulation and regulatory agencies turn a blind eye. However, it is left for violated users to take steps to seek redress.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.
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