CBA has identified more than 8000 customers that were being harassed or intimidated through a series of low-value deposits to their accounts, with abusive messages in the transaction descriptions.
The bank said today it had identified the scope of the problem after a single case emerged of “disturbing messages in the account of a customer experiencing domestic and family violence”.
“We were horrified by both the scale and the nature of what we found,” CBA’s general manager of community and customer vulnerability Catherine Fitzpatrick said.
“In a three month period, we identified more than 8000 CBA customers who received multiple low-value deposits, often less than $1, with potentially abusive messages in the transaction descriptions – 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.”
In response, CBA said it had created a new acceptable usage policy stating that “it is unacceptable to use digital banking services to stalk, harass or intimidate any person.”
It said that 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,” Fitzpatrick said.
“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 said CBA engaged 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.”
Australian Banking Association 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,” she said.
It is likely that the same problem is experienced by other banks and financial institutions, given most allow a message of a certain character length to be attached to financial transactions.
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.