Westpac turns to analytics to find abuse in transaction descriptions

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Westpac turns to analytics to find abuse in transaction descriptions

Tightens safeguards as incidents rise.

Westpac is now running data analytics across inbound and outbound payments to detect "subtle threats and patterns of abuse" in description fields of payments.

The bank on Tuesday sought to strengthen abuse reporting and prevention measures after detecting an uptick in abusive messages embedded in transactions.

“In the past few months, we have detected more than 2500 transactions containing terms that could be considered inappropriate, ranging from swear words through to domestic violence threats," Westpac's general manager of customer solutions Lisa Pogonoski said.  

"These were often on low value amounts, with some individuals repeatedly targeted."

CBA first raised the issue of abuse and harassment via digital transaction descriptions in June last year.

Westpac told iTnews at the time that it had "multiple processes" in place to deal with the issue, without elaborating.

It is now rolling out a new tool which will enable customers to report any abuse on inbound payments by clicking a report button within the bank's online and mobile banking platforms.

Once an abusive message has been flagged, a specialised Westpac team is notified and reviews it. They can warn or ban the offender.

Westpac said it is also running keyword detection technology on outgoing payments. The feature is expected to be rolled out across online and mobile banking channels in the upcoming weeks following an initial customer pilot.

In addition, the bank is running advanced data analytics on both inbound and outbound payments looking for "more subtle threats and patterns of abuse in messages" that may not be picked up by other methods.

Pogonoski said it was “shocking” that people were using payment transactions to harass and threaten others, “often circumventing blocks on other channels like SMS and social media to reach the recipient.”

“We will be able to use these measures and insights to help us evolve our monitoring capabilities and inform further steps to stamp out abuse on our platforms," Pogonoski said.

Speaking to iTnews, group executive human resources at the Commonwealth Bank Sian Lewis said since updating its Acceptable Use Policy the bank has also applied further safeguards. 

"Last year, we updated our Acceptable Use Policy to address this issue and more recently we have implemented an automatic block on some of the most offensive and abusive language across our digital banking platforms, like the CommBank App, preventing a transaction from being processed if a customer attempts to use this language in a transaction description.

"It will take a whole of industry approach to properly address this issue so we’re pleased to see other banks starting to address the problem as well.”


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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