Visa Blackmail, Technology Partnerships and Trust

Consider the case of Pawanjeet Heir, an Indian national that came to Australia on a 457 visa and “unwittingly became a victim of visa fraud, extortion and indentured servitude” (Source: Canberra Times). Finding herself falling through the gaps in the system, she faces potential deportation from Australia despite not doing anything obviously wrong. The system has clearly failed her, and it’s the system that has opportunity to fix this.

Responsibility for the fraud clearly lies with the employer – they posted the job advertisement, sponsored the visa, paid wages and committed the criminal acts that created this situation. But technology had a role play here, and there are a few Trust and Safety opportunities that could help avert this situation again in future.


Gumtree hosted the original advertisement. They’re an online classifieds app/site where consumers can buy and sell products with other people in their local area. There was nothing illegal or wrong about the original ad, indeed job advertisements are at the core of a successful online classifieds business model. They even have tips on avoiding scams on their security centre and moderate their ads, making them pretty good at Trust and Safety. What is missing in this story is if and how the Australian Border Force, Pawanjeet’s bank and Gumtree cooperate to detect and prevent these scams. Could ABF scrape Gumtree listings (by phone numbers, email addresses or businesses) and match to their watchlist database to identify future recruits to the scam? Would banking patterns around large withdrawals trigger something if they knew the consumer had previously been introduced to a potential scammer online? What if authorities could string together the sequence of events, through technology partnerships with classifieds and banking industries? Cooperation and sharing between private and public sectors is how we get ahead of these scams, and the Australian Cyber Security Strategy should be commended including this in their plans.


This case is also an example how businesses that do most things right can still have trust issues. Gumtree’s name is being thrown about in every article alongside the words blackmail, extortion and slavery. The reporting is fair and accurate, Pawanjeet did in fact see the original posting on Gumtree. There is also no judgement being placed on Gumtree, no one is claiming that Gumtree has done anything wrong or holds them accountable for the illegal actions of others. This reporting shows Gumtree has done a pretty good job of educating law enforcement, the media and public about their business model, how they manage risks and where responsibility stands when something goes wrong. This case will hurt Gumtree by association with the crimes and some users will churn or not sign up, but the fallout would have been much worse if they hadn’t done that upfront work preparing for and managing direct threats to their business model, a core pillar of Trust and Safety.

Learn more about Trust and Safety in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania at

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