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FM Sitharaman Says Google Took Down Over 2,500 Loan Lending Apps From Play Store: Report

Google took down over 2,500 fraudulent loan apps from its Play Store between April 2021 and July 2022, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman reportedly claimed in a written reply to a query in the Lok Sabha Monday. The minister also said that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had shared ‘whitelist’ of betting apps with the government to separate applications that operate legally from those that flout guidelines. Earlier this year, the Indian government banned over 230 Chinese-linked lending apps that facilitate betting and loans following complaints of extortion and harassment.

According to Sitharaman, the government has been in talks with the RBI and other industry stakeholders over curbing illegal loan apps in the country, a report in the Mint said.

“Between April 2021 and July 2022, Google also reviewed approximately 3,500 to 4,000 loan lending apps and suspended or removed over 2,500 fraudulent loan apps from its Play Store,” Sitharaman was quoted as saying in the report. The issue of fraudulent loan apps is regularly brought up in meetings of the Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC), the report added.

The FM also said that a ‘whitelist of legal loan apps, prepared by the RBI, had been shared with the government and further sent to Google, as well. The search engine giant has also updated its Play Store policy on enforcement of loan lending apps and implemented stricter requirements for lending apps in the country.

Back in April, Google had said that it had acted against more than 3,500 loan apps in India for violating Play Store policy requirements. The company had claimed it prevented 1.43 million policy-violating apps from being published on Google Play, banned 173,000 bad accounts, and prevented over $2 billion (nearly Rs. 16,350 crore) in fraudulent and abusive transactions last year.

Google’s announcement had come weeks after the Indian government banned over 230 loan lending and betting apps with Chinese links following complaints of extortion and harassment from borrowers in February. The crackdown on loan apps saw 138 betting apps and 94 loan lending apps blocked under Section 69 of the IT Act.

In March, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed charges against payment gateway Razorpay and three Chinese-linked fintech companies, among others, in a money laundering probe linked to fraudulent loan lending apps.

In addition to Razorpay, firms named in the chargesheet included fintech companies Mad Elephant Network Technology Private Limited, Baryonyx Technology Private Limited and Cloud Atlas Future Technology Private Limited — all allegedly controlled by Chinese nationals — and three non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) registered with RBI.

Earlier this month, security researchers revealed details of apps used by loan sharks to defraud users, and listed the methods used by the apps to bypass some of the restrictions put in place on the Play Store. As many as 18 apps identified as ‘SpyLoan’ malware were found on the Play Store in 2023.

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