Lookout has announced the discovery of nearly 300 loan apps that exhibit predatory behavior such as exfiltrating excessive user data from mobile devices and harassing borrowers for repayment.
These apps, which were found in Africa and Southeast Asia, as well as India, Colombia, and Mexico, purportedly offer quick, fully-digital loan approvals with reasonable loan terms. In reality, they exploit victims’ desire for quick cash in an attempt to ensnare borrowers into predatory loan contracts and require them to grant access to sensitive information on their device such as contacts, phone history, and SMS messages — information that would not be required in a valid loan application process.
In addition to predatory requests for excessive permissions, many of the loan operators display scam-like actions. Victims have reported that their loans came with hidden fees, high interest rates, and repayment terms that were much less favorable than what was posted on the app stores. Lookout Threat Lab also found evidence that the data exfiltrated from devices was sometimes used to pressure the customer for repayment – a common threat tactic to disclose a borrower’s debt or other personal information to their network of contacts.
In total, Lookout researchers uncovered 251 Android apps on the Google Play Store with more than 15 million collective downloads. The team also identified 35 apps on the Apple App Store that were in the top 100 finance apps in their regional stores. Lookout has been in contact with Google and Apple about these apps and, at the time of publishing, none of them are available for download.
“Mobile apps have made managing our lives a lot easier and are a convenient way to interact with businesses such as financial institutions. However, when entrusting any app with sensitive personal information, it is extremely important to stop and ask yourself if the information being requested makes sense and if the business behind the app is a trusted entity,” said Ruohan Xiong, senior security intelligence researcher, Lookout. “As these predatory loan apps have demonstrated, app permissions could easily be abused if users are not careful. While there are likely dozens of independent operators involved, all of these loan apps have a very similar business model – to trick victims into unfair loan terms and then extort payment.”
Customers of Lookout Mobile Endpoint Security and Lookout Personal Digital Safety are protected from these threats. Even though these apps have been taken offline, Lookout recommends that consumers exercise caution when it comes to engaging with online businesses, including financial institutions.
To learn more about these predatory loan apps, including tips on how consumers can protect themselves, read the Lookout Threat Lab blog.