Shady debt collectors in China are hiring grannies and HIV patients to intimidate people

Coming for you.
Coming for you.
Image: Reuters/Jason Lee
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Small businesses in China often have to turn to loan sharks to borrow money at high interest rates, and recovery of debts can be, well, troublesome at times. While some lenders hire thugs to take hostages (paywall) to get their money back, others have turned to more unusual means.

Over a dozen middle-aged women in central China’s Henan province have been sentenced up to 11 years in jail for using violence and abuse to force people to pay back their debts, according to reports this week in Chinese media (link in Chinese). A court ruled in July that the women and their male leader were guilty of organizing and participating in a “criminal syndicate.”

They belong to a gang of more than 30 women who were hired by small firms to collect debts and meddle in financial disputes, according to local police. Their average age is 50, and the oldest woman is 70 years old. They were paid a commission of around 200 yuan ($30) for each job. One blind woman, a veteran of the gang who was sentenced to five years in jail, told the Beijing News (link in Chinese) that loan sharks hired them because people don’t want to quarrel with women, the disabled, and the elderly. In one case, the gang surrounded a man’s house for six straight days, forcing him to move out to make way for a new property development. At one point, one of the women grabbed the man’s genitals while insulting him, according to his testimony.

As Beijing News noted, the village where the gang is based had enjoyed a real estate boom, but after a slowdown in recent years, developers are having difficulty paying back their debts. Police are usually reluctant to get involved in financial disputes, and taking the case to court is a long process.

Aside from grannies, debt collectors have also hired HIV carriers to help recover money, according to an Aug. 8 report from Beijing Youth Daily (link in Chinese). These victims typically come from Henan’s rural parts, where HIV infection rates are high due to a slew of blood-buying scandals that has gone on for decades. A man in his 60s told the paper that he always displays his medical record showing he has HIV to debtors as an intimidation tactic.

“They just want you to go away quickly and not sit in their homes,” he said, adding that he charges 100 yuan per day for his service.