Cyberbullying By Online Loan Companies — Nigerian Tribune Editorial

Posted by News Express | 17 November 2021 | 818 times

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•Motion Sponsor, Hon. Akin Alabi

 

ALMOST on a daily basis, Nigerians have, in recent times, been receiving text messages like the following: “Your friend, Mr. Donald Drum, is a dubious person, a thief and a fraudster who has been defrauding people for weeks now. This person obtained a loan from our company but he has refused to pay back. He has totally refused to pick our calls. Be informed that this person has been declared wanted. He gave us your details and listed you as a guarantor.  Please advise him to pay up or face jail time. If he does not, it will affect you and him negatively as we shall take all legal steps to retrieve our money from this criminal.” This is, of course, possibly the crudest form of defamation, character assassination and cyberbullying by online loan companies, but the act of sending unsolicited, defamatory text messages to persons whose contact details are listed on a defaulter’s phone has persisted.

Usually, these fintech companies purport to grant their customers uncollateralized loans, requiring applicants to download their (the companies’) mobile applications on their phones and activate a direct debit which grants the application access to the customers’ phone contacts. Apprised of the weaknesses of the Nigerian State where agencies to whom the protection of consumers has been entrusted behave like captured regulators, these loan companies reportedly embed within their applications, trackers sharing data with third parties without apprising customers of that information. Now, because the rates charged by the companies are outrageous, default by customers is routine, for which reason they send embarrassing text and Whatsapp messages targeted at shaming the defaulters and their contacts, thoroughly publicising the details, including the defaulters’ full names, phone numbers and pictures, of what is supposed to be a private transaction between them and their customer.

Worried by the activities of these shylock companies, the lawmaker representing the Egbeda/Ona Ara Federal constituency, Hon. Akin Alabi, moved a motion last week to curtail their excesses. He stated that the companies had been operating outside the principle of fair and lawful processing of personal data as required under the Nigerian Data Protection Regulation and other relevant provisions on data protection in the country. While calling on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to ensure better regulation of the financial service providers, he urged the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to ensure strict adherence to the Nigerian Data Protection Regulation by all online loan providers. To be sure, Nigeria is not without extant provisions dealing with the infractions committed by the loan providers. In general, cyberbullying or cyberstalking refers to the process of using the internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person. Indeed, the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015 defines cyberstalking as any conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. This includes the transmission of any communication through the means of a computer to bully, threaten or harass another person where such communication causes that person fear of death, violence or bodily harm. It has been reported by many defaulting customers that the fintech companies threatened them with death.

Instructively, NITDA has described the debt recovery strategy adopted by the fintechs as a data-sharing breach, warning that no fintech company has the permission to share customers’ data without due process. According to NITDA’s spokesperson, Hadiza Umah, it was in a bid to curb the ugly trend that the agency imposed a sanction of N10 million on an online lending platform, Soko Lending Company Limited (Sokoloan), for data privacy invasion. Umah said the agency had, before then, received a series of complaints against the company, including unauthorised disclosures, failure to protect customers’ personal data, and defamation of character.

To be sure, cyberbullying by online loan companies is a case that should ordinarily be reported to the police. Apparently, the pernicious practice has continued unchecked because most of those affected, either out of fear or ignorance, failed to approach the police or the court of law. If cases are not reported to the police, they cannot be investigated and taken to court. But it is also true that if the cases, where reported to the police, were well handled, there would be no need for a new law. On their part, regulatory agencies like NITDA and the CBN must up their game, apply sanctions evenly, and stamp out the ugly activities of the loan companies. If the licenses of defaulting companies were withdrawn, the rest would sit up.


Source: News Express

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