Westpac to block abuse from money transfers

Customers not acting in line with Westpac's policy for acceptable behaviour will be warned and if necessary, exited from the bank.

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Inbound payment blocking

Image: Westpac

In a bid to make digital banking safer for its customers, Westpac will no longer allow messages containing abuse to be sent in transaction descriptions.

"It's shocking that individuals are using real-time payment transactions to harass and threaten others, often circumventing blocks on other channels like SMS and social media to reach the recipient," Westpac general manager of customer solutions Lisa Pogonoski said.

"We want to create a safer digital banking experience for our customers and send a clear signal that abusive messages in payment transactions will not be tolerated."

Pogonoski said in the past few months, Westpac has detected more than 2,500 transactions containing terms that could be considered inappropriate, ranging from swear words through to domestic violence threats.

New measures announced by the red and white bank to contain such behaviour include giving customers the ability to report abusive messages and block inappropriate language from outgoing payments. 

"The changes have been introduced in response to the growing issue of digital payment channels being used as alternate messaging services to send abuse and threats via the description and reference fields in payment transactions," Westpac said on Tuesday.

For inbound payments, the bank will roll out a new tool enabling customers to report abuse and harassment received in the payment transaction description. This will be done via clicking a report button within Westpac's online and mobile banking platforms to have offensive messaging flagged and sent to a dedicated team for review and action.

Westpac said during the review process, it would consider further action against abuse, such as warning the customer or notifying the sender's financial institution.

The bank has also deployed technology to monitor outgoing payments sent through its online and mobile banking platforms, which blocks certain transactions containing inappropriate or offensive language in real-time.

Customers will be notified if their outgoing transaction contains inappropriate language from a set list of terms and have their payment stopped. The language will need to be removed for the payment to be accepted and processed, Westpac said.

"Westpac is also conducting advanced data analysis for both inbound and outbound payments to help detect more subtle threats and patterns of abuse in messages. If abusive behaviour is identified, it will be escalated to the support team for response," it added.

Individuals not acting in line with Westpac's policy for acceptable behaviour will be warned and if necessary, exited from the bank.

"We want to be clear that we have zero tolerance for this behaviour and will continue to crackdown on individuals who are not using our digital platforms appropriately, including exiting customers," Pogonoski said.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) made a similar move in June last year, after identifying over 8,000 customers that had some sort of abuse hurled at them via transaction descriptions.

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 message is simple, we can see you and we won't tolerate the use of our digital banking platforms to facilitate abuse,"  general manager of Community and Customer Vulnerability Catherine Fitzpatrick said at the time.

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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