Loan sharks

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Earlier this week, Mohammad Masood, an unemployed resident of Rawalpindi committed suicide after being incessantly threatened by digital loan apps for failing to pay back Rs800,000 in debt. He took two separate loans from the apps to pay his children’s school fees and house rent, and repay his former loan. The lamentable incident is another reminder of the crippling pressure millions of Pakistanis face amid surging inflation and the absence of state welfare.

The mobile applications went as far as threatening Masood with police action against his family if loan repayment was further delayed. His wife revealed that he was supposed to pay back the loan with an interest payment of 14% but it kept increasing day by day. FIA has launched a separate inquiry against both apps which seem more of a ploy to exploit vulnerable citizens than to actually provide them with financial support in difficult times. Considering that the rules and regulations on launching digital applications remain uncertain, many people might be operating similar dubious applications to prey on vulnerable people. This indicates the need to improve awareness about cyber security and formulate laws on creating digital applications and platforms, particularly those that deal with sensitive matters. Perhaps, FIA can lend a helping hand in tightening policies and authenticating the platforms.

Officials of both apps must be brought to justice to prevent the criminal-minded elements from undertaking similar activities in the future. Crucially, the incident calls attention to the growing helplessness and desperation of the masses who are struggling to maintain their livelihoods. The government needs to do more than just rejoice over the incoming IMF loan payments. People need relief in the form of employment, adequate wages and reduced commodity prices. Otherwise, we will continue witnessing similar incidents of exploitation and despair.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2023.

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