Westpac is introducing new tools to clamp down on the use of payment channels to send abusive and threatening messages to recipients via the description and reference fields in online banking transactions.
The Australian bank is starting the roll out of a new tool enabling customers to click 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, which may include notifying the sender's financial institution of the interaction.
The bank is also using technology to monitor the language used in outbound payments, blocking 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.
The lender 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’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 customer solutions, Lisa Pogonoski, says. “In the past few months, we have detected more than 2,500 transactions containing terms that could be considered inappropriate, ranging from swear words through to domestic violence threats. These were often on low value amounts, with some individuals repeatedly targeted."
Comonwealth Bank of Australia last year acted to ban customers that used transaction description fields to send abusive messages, including threates to domestic abuse victims.
A study by the bank, prompted by disturbing messages in the account of a customer experiencing domestic and family violence, found that more than 8000 customers had received multiple low-value deposits, often of less than $1, with potentially abusive messages.
CBA notes that domestic abuse is often linked to financial abuse. Approximately one in four women and one in thirteen men in Australia have experienced violence by an intimate partner and, among those who seek support, up to 90% are also affected by financial abuse.