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2018-03-23 13:39:24

Beauty can come at a hefty price for those taking out a new form of shady online loan, which targets young women seeking to pay for cosmetic surgery.

In one case in northwestern China’s Shaanxi province, an aspiring internet celebrity surnamed Zhang was left thousands of yuan in debt in an apparent loan scam after undergoing plastic surgery to secure a livestreaming job, local newspaper Chinese Business View reported Friday.

During the three-day probation period at her new job as a livestreaming host with a media company in provincial capital Xi’an last December, Zhang was told she had to have plastic surgery to keep the job because her appearance was “far from that of an internet celebrity.” The company said it would reimburse the cost of the procedures, including a nose job and eye surgery.

According to the report, an employee accompanied Zhang to the hospital on the day of the surgery, but when they arrived, the employee told Zhang she had to pay the 40,000-yuan ($6,300) fee herself. When she said she didn’t have the money, the employee suggested Zhang borrow from an online microloan company, promising that the media company would reimburse her.

Zhang applied for the loan and had the surgery. But when she returned to work after a recovery period, the company refused to reimburse her on the grounds that she had decided to take out a loan to cover the cost, and also that she still did not meet the company’s appearance standard. Zhang has since filed a lawsuit against the media company, and the case is under investigation.

Zhang and other young women have become vulnerable to scams due to a risky type of moneylending that’s gaining traction in China: “face loans.” While often-shady “peer-to-peer” loans are nothing new in the nation — with cases of online lenders exploiting cash-strapped students making headlines in the past — face loans target young women who seek money to fund plastic surgery.

Not all are scams, but critics argue that lenders are taking advantage of these women’s insecurities and the societal pressure to possess the big eyes, pointed chin, and other attributes of today’s celebrities. A perfect face can also be the ticket to fame and fortune: As of last December, as many as 422 million people had joined the online livestreaming industry, in which the most successful stars can make millions.

While in theory, face loans and similar types of online lending are not illegal, lawyer Zeng Dapeng believes there are plenty of legal risks, as they typically target customers who can’t pay back the money. Zeng told Sixth Tone that in Zhang’s case, the media company may have been soliciting business for the online lending platform — which would constitute an unlawful scam. However, requesting the employee to have plastic surgery would not itself be illegal, says Zeng, who works at Ehern Law Firm in Shanghai and specializes in business law.

When contacted by Chinese Business View on Thursday, a high-level staff member at the media company simply said it was Zhang’s choice to have the surgery. The newspaper’s report did not reveal the name of the company but said that when journalists visited, a different business occupied the address, and staff there claimed to have no knowledge of the media company in question. The report did not say whether Zhang had quit.

Zhang said she continues to receive calls from the online lending platform — which was also not identified in the Chinese Business View report — every day. Including interest, she is now 45,000 yuan in debt.

Online microloans have become a popular way to get cash quick because their requirements are typically much easier to satisfy than those of banks in China. But the practice is often problematic. Last year, the Ministry of Education banned online lenders from providing loans to students following several suicides involving young people who were hounded by debt collectors. The rise of face loans involving unscrupulous lenders is just as worrying: Local media in Hunan province reported last November that underage girls were forced into prostitution by online lenders after failing to pay back money they took out for cosmetic surgery.

(Header image: A woman listens as a plastic surgeon explains her upcoming procedure at a hospital in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Aug. 24, 2016. VCG)

Editor: Jessica Levine.