A gang of loan sharks in China caused the deaths of 89 people after the crime ring hired debt collection companies to harass and intimidate borrowers who had no feasible avenue to pay off their obligations, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
The gang, headed by a man named Wang Tao and based in the city of Lanzhou, in the northwestern province of Gansu, inked 3.36 million contracts with 475,000 people between March 2018 and March 2019.
The loan sharks gave out 6.27 billion yuan (US$960 million) of illegal loans. After interest, Wang’s gang had been repaid 9.11 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) and owned an outstanding debt of 9.84 billion (US$1.5 billion), according to accounting books presented at the trials.
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The gang implemented aggressive collection tactics blended with vicious interest rate schemes, believed to have contributed to the suicides of 89 people in China.
Wang’s illegal enterprise lured unsuspecting borrowers with enticing terms such as “interest-free for seven days” or “low threshold, fast loans” in contracts that often resulted in annual interest rates of between 1,303 per cent to 5,214 per cent if the borrower could not pay off their debt quickly. According to Experian, a credit rating agency, the average interest rate for an above-board personal loan is 9.4 per cent.
The crime ring, which had no lending license, would also issue what police call “trap loans,” which did not include terms for defaulting, which sometimes resulted in borrowers selling their properties to pay off debts.
The documentary said, “The fundamentals of the loan, also known as a trap loan, is you can not pay it off at all even though you go bankrupt. Under the disguise of a legal loan, every loan is a debt stained with blood.”
The fraudulent company hired 24 debt collection companies that harassed, threatened and intimated victims and their family members for a commission. Authorities say this intimidation directly resulted in some victims taking their own lives.
One victim in Sichuan province who could not pay off her debts committed suicide with her husband. Another woman in Qinghai followed a similar fate.
The CCTV documentary aired footage of a man who, during his final video clip, said he wanted to “die as a relief” from the burden his debts had created.
The scheme caught the eye of authorities in December 2018, and in March 2019 253 people were detained during a dragnet across the three provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi and Anhui.
Wang was sentenced to life in prison while his top lieutenants received anywhere from five to 20-year sentences during a series of trials that ended in September 2020.
The official indictment against Wang has not been released to the public, but other cases related to the scheme paint a clear picture of how Wang built his empire.
The apps and websites would lure people into the platform where the victim would input their personal information as well as phone contacts or phone call records.
Wang’s crew would often target the same people with companies that appeared different but were all within his criminal spider web. A person would borrow from one of Wang’s “companies” to pay the debt in another.
The loans often included a 30 per cent “service charge.” So, if someone took out a 1,000 yuan (US$152) contract, they would only receive a 700 yuan (US$107) deposit. Then, if the loan was not paid in seven days, the borrower would be charged a 10 per cent daily compound interest based on the 1,000 yuan (US$152) contract value.
Authorities say the gang would often forge the paperwork to increase the value of the contract to make the interest rate worth more money.
One victim said he borrowed 2,000 yuan (US$305) at the beginning and was told to apply for loans in other apps to pay back this loan, which eventually led to a 700,000 yuan (US$107,000) debt.
The man said he was coerced and threatened every day and eventually his family sold their apartment to pay off the gang.
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