New AUSTRAC financial crime guide targets technology-facilitated abuse

A new financial crime guide released today will help businesses understand, identify and report technology-facilitated abuse through financial transaction payment text fields. AUSTRAC’s Fintel Alliance has seen an increase in the use of these fields to stalk, harass or threaten victims, in an attempt to avoid law enforcement scrutiny.  

Misuse of payment fields is an increasing risk to the Australian community. Westpac research shows that one in two (51%) Australians have received some form of online abuse, including via email, mobile and social media channels. One in four (26%) admit to having used some form of inappropriate language in payment transactions.

Family and domestic violence continues to increase, with 2020 data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing that more than a third of homicide victims in Australia were family and domestic violence related incidents (145 victims).

White Ribbon Australia Executive Director, Brad Chilcott, said he welcomed the release of the financial crime guide as a further step in recognising the use of coercive control to stalk, intimidate and harass, which is unacceptable and should be criminalised accordingly.

“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,” Mr 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,” he added.

Technology-facilitated abuse involves the use of technology, including payment text fields, as a communication method for an offender to coerce, stalk, threaten or harass their victim. This is enabled by almost real-time transactions and increased text limits. Increasingly, it is used by people who are the subject of protection orders, which constitutes a breach of the order.

AUSTRAC CEO Nicole Rose PSM said that the financial sector has an important role to play in helping to prevent and stop abuse through their payment platforms.

“We are concerned about the increase in use of financial transaction text fields for the purposes of domestic and family violence and criminal activity,” she said.

“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 and the Australian community.”

The financial crime guide helps financial services businesses identify the misuse of payment text fields and understand when to report this issue to AUSTRAC.

Key indicators of financial transactions being used for abuse of criminal activity include high volume payments at a low value. Payments can be as low as $0.01 and are typically below $10.

To protect customers from abusive messages via payment text fields, some financial service providers have implemented measures to identify and block abusive or offensive messages. The use of real-time monitoring, customer self-reporting and in-depth data analysis has already helped to reduce the risk of misuse of payment text fields.

In 2020, AUSTRAC introduced a change to the AML/CTF customer ID and verification Rule to help people experiencing family and domestic violence. It means that if customers are missing standard identification such as their driver’s license or birth certificate, banks and other regulated businesses can use alternative ways to verify their customer’s identity.

If you or someone you know is experiencing offensive or threatening messages through payment text fields, report the issue immediately to your financial service provider.

Download the report

Financial crime guide – Preventing misuse and criminal communication through payment text fields

Media contact

Allison Roesler-Vannan
Senior Director Strategic Communications and Media Operations

Email: media@austrac.gov.au
Phone: 02 9950 0488 

Help and support

Emergency 

In an emergency, call the police on 000.

Support for domestic violence victims 

1800RESPECT

1800RESPECT is a 24-hour national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

Phone: 1800 737 732

Website: www.1800respect.org.au 

Suicide and self-harm support services

Lifeline

Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing emotional distress with access to 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.

Phone: 13 11 14

Website: www.lifeline.org.au

More information about domestic and family violence

White Ribbon Australia: Prevent Men’s Violence Against Women

Website: www.whiteribbon.org.au