The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has moved to block abusive messages sent alongside money transfers after it witnessed the platform be used to harass victims of domestic violence.
"After noticing disturbing messages in the account of a customer experiencing domestic and family violence, we conducted analysis to better understand the problem," CBA general manager of Community and Customer Vulnerability Catherine Fitzpatrick said.
"We were horrified by both the scale and the nature of what we found."
In a three-month span, CBA identified that more than 8,000 of its customers had received multiple low-value deposits, often less than AU$1, attached with potentially abusive messages in the transaction descriptions, Fitzpatrick said.
"In effect using them as a messaging service," she said. "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.
"The message is simple, we can see you and we won't tolerate the use of our digital banking platforms to facilitate abuse."
Any customer found to be using NetBank or the CommBank app to engage in unlawful, defamatory, harassing, or threatening conduct, or to promote or encourage physical or mental harm or violence against any person may have their transactions refused or access to digital banking services suspended or discontinued, the bank said in a statement on Thursday.
"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," Fitzpatrick added.
"We are committed to improving the financial wellbeing of all Australians, including the most vulnerable and those impacted by domestic and financial abuse. We will continue to look for new and innovative ways to protect our customers, and have shared our findings with other banks and financial services organisations to ensure this issue is known across the industry."
CBA said financial abuse in the context of domestic and family violence is a hidden epidemic.
According to statistics provided by the bank, 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% are also affected by financial abuse.
The Australian Banking Association 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.
IF YOU OR ANYONE YOU KNOW IN AUSTRALIA NEEDS HELP CONTACT ONE OF THESE SERVICES:
- National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 737 732
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- In an emergency or if you're not feeling safe, always call 000
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