ABA boss Anna Bligh says the investigation reveals a ‘shocking insight’. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/AAP
ABA boss Anna Bligh says the investigation reveals a ‘shocking insight’. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/AAP

Disturbing abuse inflicted through banks

The country's major lenders say they will stamp down on customers using online banking as a message board for horrific abuse after an investigation revealed the platform was being used by domestic violence perpetrators.

The Commonwealth Bank conducted a review of its digital banking accounts and found more than 8000 customers received multiple low-value deposits accompanied by potentially abusive messages in the transaction description over a three-month period.

Often transactions were less than $1 and included "serious threats and clear references to domestic and family violence" from both men and women.

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"After noticing disturbing messages in the account of a customer experiencing domestic and family violence, we conducted analysis to better understand the problem," CBA's community and customer vulnerability boss Catherine Fitzpatrick said.

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

The major lender has now introduced a new policy which allows it to suspend any customers found using the digital platforms to defame, abuse or harass.

But those who use this platform can also face far greater punishment, Bond University associate professor in criminology Terry Goldsworthy said.

"It doesn't matter if you send a threatening text message, if you put that into a message of a financial transaction through internet banking it has the same effect," he told news.com.au.

"If people are doing it and they have orders against them or even if they don't, they can still be actioned by the police.

"Police just need to go to the bank, execute a search warrant to get the records and messages, and that would be the evidence of the offence."

The other three major lenders say they will now also be on the lookout for similar abusive behaviour after the industry's peak body raised the concerning issue earlier in the year.

Both Westpac and ANZ confirmed existing policy was already available to close the accounts of customers using the platform to inflict abuse.

Westpac digital officer Martine Jager said the bank has "multiple processes in place to help protect" its users.

"Keeping our customers safe while they bank online is one of our top priorities," he said in a statement provided to news.com.au.

"This includes continually reviewing and enhancing our policies and procedures to ensure our customers can use our digital banking services in a safe and secure way."

NAB told news.com.au it will make further improvements to its systems and policies to protect its customers.

It also confirmed it will deny access to users showing the "use of inappropriate language, which includes any abuse".

"Our customer support hub, a specialist team of dedicated bankers, also provide support for our customers experiencing domestic and family violence," a NAB spokesperson said.

"We continually assess how we tackle forms of abuse and want to ensure we are always providing a safe banking experience for our customers."


ABA boss Anna Bligh says the investigation reveals a ‘shocking insight’. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/AAP
ABA boss Anna Bligh says the investigation reveals a ‘shocking insight’. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/AAP


The need for action to be taken on digital banking reveals a disturbing avenue for abuse, Australian Banking Association chief executive 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," she said.

"CBA have done their customers a great service in identifying this abuse and taking swift action to stop it."

The industry and the Australian government's financial intelligence unit, AUSTRAC, have also agreed that people suffering domestic violence will be able to prove their identity by ways other than showing a driver's licence or birth certificate.

Financial abuse was often part of this violence, AUSTRAC said, in which victims were denied access to bank accounts.


Originally published as Disturbing abuse inflicted through banks