Chinese 100-yuan banknotes. (SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)
Preying on young women who need money for college and other expenses, Internet lenders in China are reportedly offering them high-interest loans in exchange for nude photos of themselves, enticing victims with promises of extra cash and then blackmailing those who fail to pay by threatening to publish the pictures or send them to their families. The photos must show each girl holding an ID card.
The Internet-based scheme, reported by the state-run Beijing Youth Daily newspaper, has generated a flood of condemnation on social media and websites in China, according to a story Thursday in the Guardian. One commentator on Weibo, the country's dominant social media platform, said the loans were "like opium," the historic scourge of Chinese society.
Beijing Youth Daily named Jiedaibao, a website operated by the venture capital firm JD Capital, as a source of the loan-sharking scene. It described an unnamed student from Jiangsu province who agreed to send naked photos of herself in exchange for 120,000 yuan (about ,000) to start a small business. After four months, her debt had doubled, and the lenders threatened to publish the nude images. To avoid scandal, it said, the student borrowed funds from her parents.
A second Chinese newspaper, the , reported that a female student, also unnamed, borrowed a small sum from an Internet lender at high interest rates. Her debt quickly ballooned by 1,000 percent, she reportedly told the paper, and the company demanded her nude photo as collateral for new loans to repay the original debt.
According to the Guardian, a spokesman for Jiedaibao said it would work with police to investigate the practice, saying it was "taking advantage of the online platform to operate an illegal usurious business." However, the Beijing Youth Daily quoted an unnamed Jiedaibao official as saying the company had no control over collateral demands made under "private trade" deals.
Sixth Tone, a Chinese website, published an that included screenshot photographs of young women holding up ID cards in front of their bared torsos. It described the photos as "debt collection messages" from lenders, obtained from Southern Metropolis Daily. The site blurred the women's faces.
Sixth Tone said that it was unclear how widespread the practice had become but that it had "discovered that loan sharks asking for nude photos are easy to find." The site approached one online middleman with a reporter posing as a student customer and said he agreed to lend 3,000 yuan (about 0) in exchange for a nude photo and detailed personal contact information.
According to Chinese media, it is difficult for college students to get credit because of strict rules and limited availability. Online platforms have sprung up to meet the demands, but they often charge exorbitant lending rates to young people who may not understand finance. Sixth Tone said the online lending agent made no effort to find out whether the student could repay the loan or not.
Fu Jian, a lawyer in Zhengzhou, was quoted as saying he had helped more than 20 students with loan complaints. He said the use of nude photos as collateral was not illegal unless they were published, and that many lending platforms have "a large number of middlemen in different cities to seduce students to borrow money." China has no institution that oversees online lending.