The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has taken steps to tackle the issue of technology-facilitated abuse after it identified customers sending potentially abusive messages in banking transaction descriptions.
General manager of community and customer vulnerability Catherine Fitzpatrick said the bank conducted analysis after noticing “disturbing” messages in the account of a customer experiencing domestic and family violence.
In a three-month period, the bank identified more than 8,000 CBA customers who received multiple low-value deposits, often less than $1, with potentially abusive messages in the transaction description.
Ms Fitzpatrick said customers were “in effect using them as a messaging service”.
“All genders were sending and receiving these messages, but the nature ranged from fairly innocuous ‘jokes’ using profanities to serious threats and clear references to domestic and family violence,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.
To tackle this, the major bank has introduced a new acceptable use policy, which states it is unacceptable to use digital banking services to stalk, harass or intimidate any person.
Any customer found to be using NetBank or the CommBank app to engage in unlawful, defamatory, harassing or threatening conduct, promoting or encouraging physical or mental harm, or violence against any person may have their transactions refused or access to digital banking services suspended or discontinued.
“The message is simple. We can see you, and we won’t tolerate the use of our digital banking platforms to facilitate abuse,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.
“We worked with experts, community partners and law enforcement to ensure they are aware of what we found and to help us to develop responses that will not have unintended consequences. In particular, we use the e-Safety Commissioner’s Safety by Design framework to guide us.”
Ms Fitzpatrick added that the bank has shared its findings with other banks and financial services organisations to ensure the entire industry is aware of the issue.
“Our customers should always feel safe using digital banking. These changes will ensure that all customers can continue to enjoy the benefits of digital banking in a safe and secure way and represents our first step to address the issue of technology-facilitated abuse,” she said.
Commenting on the disturbing trend of technology-facilitated abuse, Australian Banking Association (ABA) CEO Anna Bligh said: “The use of bank transaction communications as a vehicle for threatening abuse gives a shocking insight into the lengths that violent partners will go to threaten, harass and abuse.”
“CBA have done their customers a great service in identifying this abuse and taking swift action to stop it.”
eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant welcomed the fact that the CBA was guided by its principles for this measure.
“Safety by Design encourages and assists industry to take a proactive and consistent approach to user safety, helping companies to innovate and invest in safety to improve the user experience for their customers.”
According to the ABS 2016 Personal Safety Survey, approximately one in four women and one in 13 men in Australia have experienced violence by an intimate partner. Among those who seek support, up to 90 per cent are also affected by financial abuse.
If you are suffering from abuse, depression or suicidal thoughts, or you’re worried about someone else and feel that urgent professional support is needed, contact your local doctor or one of the 24/7 crisis agencies below.
1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
Malavika Santhebennur is the features editor on the mortgages titles at Momentum Media.
Before joining the team in 2019, Malavika held roles with Money Management and Benchmark Media. She has been writing about financial services for the past six years.