Three Cambodian women allege they were harassed by informal online lenders after borrowing $50 and became victims of blackmail and extortion after sending naked photographs and videos in an attempt to escape the cycle of debt.
In a report released on Monday, rights group Licadho said it provided services to the women last year. The victims had also filed complaints with the Interior Ministry's Anti Cyber Crime Department.
“After receiving small initial loans, the women faced high interest rates and unclear loan conditions, which led to growing debt burdens. Then, new lenders began contacting the women on Telegram to offer further loans,” Licadho said, adding the groups also began to relentlessly contact their friends and family to pressure repayments.
Licadho said as the pressure reached a tipping point, a new group identified as Loanly offered each woman a loan large enough to repay their smaller debts. It first required the women to send naked photographs or videos of themselves via Telegram, along with their location and identity documents.
Licadho said feeling trapped and harassed by the other lenders, the women agreed and downloaded Loanly’s application. This granted the group access to their phone contacts.
“Each woman received hundreds of dollars less than promised via eMoney, with the Loanly group claiming the rest was deducted as fees,” Licadho added.
According to Licadho, Loanly launched a ruthless campaign of harassment to pressure payments and threatened to release the naked photographs and videos online. In addition, it claimed they were near the women’s houses and relentlessly called them, their families, friends and colleagues from numerous phone numbers.
Loanly publicly posted photographs of their families on Facebook, accusing them of being cheats and liars. It also added them to Telegram groups where other women’s naked photographs were being shared. In one case, it began distributing naked photographs of the woman in a Telegram group, Licadho added.
“The women report significant impacts of the repeated threats, including suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety and fear for their jobs, marriages or safety of their children,” Licadho said.
Licadho said one woman, who faced extensive harassment, even made payments exceeding double the sum she received. This failed to resolve the situation. She borrowed $1,000 from Loanly, received less than $600 after undefined fees and then paid the group almost $1,400. Still the harassment continued.
The Loanly mobile application no longer appears to be available. However, online loan groups continue to similarly target and harass Cambodians on Facebook and Telegram, Licadho said.
Licadho said social media companies and Cambodian authorities are failing to act, allowing these predatory groups to exploit women with impunity.
Exploitative online lenders thrive in Cambodia, Licadho said, adding that the Kingdom is one of the most over-indebted countries in the world.
Private debt levels soared to 174 percent of the country’s GDP as of March 2022, and debts have driven coerced land sales, unsafe migration and other human rights abuses, according to Licadho.
Cambodian national police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said on Monday that cyber crime is a new issue in the country and it is a growing concern.
“There are many factors involved, but the most important is that the problem of technology crime is a new thing for Cambodia, which we must strive to research, suppress, educate and raise awareness among the population,” Kim Khoeun told Kiripost.
“The authorities are concerned and pay high attention to this work, but fighting technology crime is also a complex topic,” he added.
Chea Serey, director general at the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), didn’t reply to Kiripost’s email for comment at the time of publication. Meas Soksensan, a spokesman at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said private loans are not part of his ministry’s responsibility.
Kiripost contacted and sent a Facebook page that goes with a name Loanly the Licadho report via its Facebook page. Loanly did not reply to requests for comment at the time of publication.