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CommBank unearths ‘horrifying’ practice

Lucy Dean
·2-min read
Pictured: CommBank store, woman looking at phone. Images: Getty
CommBank has identified abusive and intimidating behaviour. Images: Getty

When you transfer money to a friend, business or family member, the description of the transaction can be funny, a thank you note or even just a name and a purpose.

But for some Australians, the transaction description has been used as a weapon.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia found customers sending potentially abusive messages in banking transaction descriptions, and is now attempting to put an end to the behaviour.

In a statement on Thursday, CommBank said any customer found to be using its app or NetBank to send defamatory, harassing, threatening or unlawful messages will have their transactions refused.

The same rule goes for customers who use it to encourage physical or mental harm or violence, with penalties also including suspension or cancellation of banking services.

“After noticing disturbing messages in the account of a customer experiencing domestic and family violence, we conducted analysis to better understand the problem,” general manager of community and customer vulnerability Catherine Fitzpatrick said.

“We were horrified by both the scale and the nature of what we found.”

Over just three months, 8,000 CommBank customers received multiple low-value deposits of usually less than $1 with “potentially abusive messages”.

She said people were essentially using the transaction descriptions 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.”

Around one-in-four Australian women and one-in-13 Australian men have experienced intimate partner violence.

And of those who ask for help, as many as 90 per cent are also affected by financial abuse.

The bank has now implemented a new policy which dictates that it’s “unacceptable” for people to use its platforms to stalk, intimidate or harass others.

“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.”

Fitzpatrick said customers should feel safe using digital banking.

Australian Banking Association chief Anna Bligh described the findings as giving a shocking insight into how far violent and abusive partners will go to continue threatening, abusing and harassing others.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au.

For counselling, advice and support call MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 or www.mensline.org.au.

In an emergency or if you’re not feeling safe, always call 000.

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