Offenders are using payment text fields to harass victims – AUSTRAC

by Micah Guiao22 Nov 2021

Federal agency AUSTRAC has noted an alarming surge in the abuse of financial transaction text fields to harass and intimidate victims, most used by people who are subject to protection orders.

One key indicator of this technology-facilitated abuse is high volume payments at a low value from $0.01 to less than $10. These threatening messages often come in the form of abbreviations, slangs or emojis due to character limits imposed on the text field.

The surge is also supported by Westpac’s research, which reveals half of Australians have received some form of online abuse through email, mobile and social media channels. In addition, one in four admit to having used inappropriate language in payment descriptions in the past.

In one instance, a man sent 10 payments valued at $5 each to a female over five weeks, asking her to contact him or else he would end his life. AUSTRAC said he was arrested and charged with breaching a protection order.

“We are concerned about the increase in use of financial transaction text fields for the purposes of domestic and family violence and criminal activity,” said Nicole Rose PSM, chief executive officer of AUSTRAC. “With our Fintel Alliance partners, we are calling on the financial services sector to understand this emerging risk, and take action to protect their customers.”

As such, AUSTRAC has released a new financial crime guide to help businesses recognise and report the abuse of text fields, especially since family and domestic violence account for more than a third of homicide victims, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Brad Chilcott, executive director at White Ribbon Australia, welcomed AUSTRAC’s new guide to inform the public about signs of coercive control in the digital space.

“The publication of this guide, and the work being done by AUSTRAC and their private-sector partners aligns with our mission to end all forms of men’s violence and abuse against women,” Chilcott said. “Australians want perpetrators of coercive control held to account – and they want to stop more people from this kind of intimate abuse in the future.”

If confronted with abusive messages, customers are encouraged to report this to their financial service provider.

AUSTRAC’s full guide can be found here.