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Give a naked selfie, get a loan

College students are signing up for ‘revenge porn’ in order to borrow money in China, reports say.

Li Li needed cash. She chose one of the online lending groups in her home country, China, that offered loans such as 10,000 yuan—about $1,500—at 24% interest. But, reports say, she had to give up a naked picture of herself as collateral, in case she didn’t repay her loan on time.

She went through with the loan, but fell behind, soon owing 55,000 yuan—more than $8,000, according to People’s Daily Online. Then the threats began, she said—pay up, or your naked selfie goes public.

Li Li is not the only one.

“Naked IOUs started long ago. Not only university students, but many others also borrowed money with nude pictures,” a source said in the People’s Daily Online. 

Another source said that naked pictures—with people holding their ID cards in their hands—are often acceptable in underground private loan companies, where borrowers may turn after they’ve been turned down by mainstream loan companies. They call them “bare strip loans” or “charging nude,” according to a translation. 

There are many reasons why the naked IOUs are a really bad idea, security experts say, even if you pay up. One of them—what happens to the nude selfie when the loan ends? You may get the image back, but it’s all too easy for the lender to simply hit “save.”

“That’s the problem with digital things,” said Doug Jacobson, director of the Iowa State University Information Assurance Center. “They have an infinite life, and an infinite number of copies of them can be made.”

Collateral damage

Lenders have used different kinds of collateral in the past. 

“Back in the old loan shark days, Vito went down the street and busted your arm or burned down your house,” Jacobson said.

Now, lenders online may not be within arm’s reach of their borrowers.

“What collateral do you have over them? That’s their downside,” Jacobson told Archer News. “When the people are all over the world, this can provide an interesting way to get collateral.”

Interesting, but not one he would recommend.

“Never share [naked] pictures of yourself,” he said. “That should be obvious, but it doesn’t turn out to be.”

How it can happen

It starts with a shortage of funds and a feeling of desperation. Do you need to pay rent? Tuition? Medical bills? Payday loan companies and other moneylenders can take advantage.

 “’You’re in trouble, we can loan you money,’” Jacobson said. “So people who are in those situations can easily fall for these things.”

It can be worse for Chinese college students. While American students have easy access to credit, students in China deal with strict regulations and limited state loans, according to English-language news and information site Sixth Tone

“China is now facing a new wave of indebted students, largely because of a regulation introduced in 2009 that has made it harder for college students to get credit cards,” Sixth Tone reported.

Payback

In the U.S. and in China, some borrowers tell themselves they will get the money to pay off the loan by the deadline.

“I’m sure they’re convinced they will pay it back in time,” Jacobson said. “‘I’m going to make it this time.'”

In a time of despair, some might tell themselves that sending a nude selfie is safe—after all, you are going to pay. But dashed hopes are not uncommon in the loan business, like Li Li’s unsuccessful repayment plan.

“She’s borrowing money to pay for the moneys she’s borrowing,” said Jacobson. “That’s the death spiral.”

“Once you take that step, who does not regret it,” Li Li said in a Chinese newspaper.

Nude selfie security

There is no safety when it comes to nude pictures on the Internet, cybersecurity experts say.

First, how do you know who you are really dealing with?

“The Internet allows the ability for all sorts of groups to set up loan practices or all sorts of merchandise, etcetera, and you don’t even know where it’s coming from. You don’t know the legitimacy of these places,” Jacobson said.

Let’s say the loan company is legitimate, or at least as legitimate as you can get while demanding a nude photo of you for collateral. Are they protecting their own data, which would include your naked photo?

“The servers are something that people attack,” Jacobson said.

“The Democratic National Committee just lost a bunch of stuff to the Russians,” he added. “We never thought much about running our credit cards through Target. But they lost 43 million of them.”

Wardrobe malfunction

E-mail accidents happen, Jacobson said—your pre-revenge porn picture could get sent to the wrong person. And it can be very hard to eradicate all traces of a digital document, like your unclothed image, from a company’s computers.

“Even if you do get the only copy, A, you won’t, because if they’re running any sort of legitimate business, they’re backing up the data. It lives in the backups,” he explained. “If you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do from a cybersecurity standpoint, then to go back and fully delete something can be a challenge.”

All this leaves you, well, naked when it comes to the security of your nude IOU.

“You share it with one, you’ve shared it with everybody,” said Jacobson. “Once it’s left your possession, the other seven billion people on this planet can potentially get it. This is true with any information you give out to somebody on the Internet.”

No need for nudes

In the U.S., some loan companies cause anxiety for borrowers even without the use of prearranged blackmail.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau just proposed a new rule that would require payday, car title and other similar lenders to figure out if a borrower can repay before giving them the loan, saying most of their borrowers can’t afford to pay on time and racking up fees and interest of up to 390%.

“We see this in Iowa. They are really bad,” said Jacobson.

“The Internet makes it so easy to go in and do this. You do it far too anonymously, you’re not walking in the door,” he said. “They trick you into borrowing money from some online organization or online site that turns around and is charging you 200% interest.”

With some of these kinds of loans, you may lose your car or get your wages seized if you don’t pay. With naked IOUs, you will be in debt for the rest of your life.

“We have enough ways to get yourself in trouble without sending pictures of yourself,” Jacobson said.

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