Commonwealth Bank develops AI model to further curb abusive payments

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Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) deputy CEO David Cohen has revealed the bank has developed an AI machine learning model to help it further identify payments that contain abusive transaction descriptions.

In the three months from May to July, a total of 106,000 transactions that contained words it deemed threatening or abusive were blocked, and those customers responsible were required to resend those payments using appropriate messaging, Cohen said.

Cohen explained, however, the bank’s existing current filter has limitations of being able to detect payments that are considered abusive, but this has now been addressed with a newly developed AI model.

“Our experience has been that it’s quite easy for people if they really are intent on sending abuse, it’s quite easy for them to avoid that filter,” he told the Standing Committee on Economics in its review of the four major banks and other financial institutions on Thursday.

“Sometimes they put symbols in instead of letters, sometimes they just spell it differently, and so it’s a rather limited tool. Sometimes, they send perfectly acceptable English words in a very threatening way. So, a message like, ‘I’m watching you’, or a message like ‘I’m standing outside your house’ doesn’t get caught by the filter.

“What we’ve done because of that — and as part of the evolution — is we built in an AI-led, machine learning model, which scans patterns of behaviour, and patterns of language use and transaction types, such as very small amounts across the full spectrum of transactions. That model that we developed in-house identified a further 229 approximately transactions that we felt were potentially serious.”

Cohen added 40 letters were issued during the three-month period to customers where the bank thought it was “particularly bad”.

In further steps to crackdown on domestic violence, the bank is launching a pilot with NSW Police whereby it would refer “particularly egregious examples of abuse” to police, so they could intervene and enforce protections, such as apprehended violence orders or follow up on serious harassment and stalking cases.

Cohen assured the company is working closely with intended victims as well.

“As you can imagine, one of our primary concerns is to ensure that the intended victim isn’t placed in the position where there’s more harm caused, as a result of us intervening … we have a team that contacts the victims where we do find bad examples, and we talk to them around how we might be able to help them,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s the case of referring to external support agencies, sometimes we’ve agreed with them to remove their pay ID details, so that people can’t make payments using text, mobile phone, and emails as the contact source. Sometimes we would help them to securely close an account and open another one.

“The reason we do engage with the intended victim very closely, because … sometimes the payment is necessary, sometimes it’s necessary for the perpetrator to succeed in making the payment because it might be a child support payment, for example.”

Fellow banking giant, Westpac revealed earlier this week the results of similar efforts, where it has managed to block some 24,000 transactions that were deemed as abusive payments.

Westpac also noted it required 19,000 customers to change the language they used in transaction descriptions before their payments could be accepted and processed.

The bank added it issued more than 800 warning letters and account suspensions and reported more than 70 customers to authorities for abusive payments.

IF YOU OR ANYONE YOU KNOW IN AUSTRALIA NEEDS HELP CONTACT ONE OF THESE SERVICES:

  • National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 737 732
  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
  • Headspace on 1800 650 890
  • In an emergency or if you’re not feeling safe, always call 000

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