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Thursday, May 13, 2021
BAL Lawyers
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Banks step up fight against technology-facilitated abuse

As the methods of technology-facilitated abuse continue to evolve, corporations like Commonwealth Bank and just recently Westpac are stepping up and playing a role in the fight against coercive control and domestic abuse.

In just three months, the Commonwealth Bank identified more than 8,000 customers who had received multiple low-value deposits, often of less than $1, with potentially abusive messages in the transaction descriptions – in effect using them as a messaging service.

Commonwealth Bank general manager of community and customer vulnerability, Catherine Fitzpatrick, said the bank was “horrified by both the scale and the nature” of what they found.

“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.”

Domestic Violence Crisis Service interim general manager, Glenda Stevens, said there had been a couple of instances here in Canberra, but not a large volume.

Ms Stevens said that meant either this method of technology-facilitated abuse wasn’t widespread or victims did not see it as abuse as it was likely a small piece in a bigger picture.

“If anyone wants to come and talk to us about their experience, we are open 24/7,” Ms Stevens said.

“We are free of charge and we can discuss your situation without judgement.

“We can also help you with the banks.”

The Commonwealth Bank’s new policy says 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.

Ms Fitzpatrick said the bank’s message was simple: “We can see you and we won’t tolerate the use of our digital banking platforms to facilitate abuse”.

“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.”

e-Safety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, said Safety by Design encouraged and assisted industry to take a proactive and consistent approach to user safety and helped companies to innovate and invest in safety to improve the user experience.

“We are delighted that CBA has been guided by our principles to better protect their customers,” Ms Inman Grant said.

Australian Banking Association CEO, Anna Bligh, said the use of bank transaction communications as a vehicle for threatening abuse provided a shocking insight into the lengths that violent partners will go to threaten, harass and abuse.

Financial abuse in the context of domestic and family violence is a hidden epidemic.

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.

Since 2015, the CBA has committed $30 million towards working with community organisations and experts to address this issue.

Domestic Violence Crisis Service can reached on SMS – 0421 268 492 or for 24/7 Crisis intervention call 62 800 900

More information on the action CBA is taking to address domestic and financial abuse is available at: www.commbank.com.au/financialabuse

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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