Kidnapping is a crime that has been around since mankind first learned to walk and I expect will be around for as long as mankind exists, in some form. The crime of kidnapping is a very much a gateway crime that on a basic level involves violence, extortion and in many cases sexual assault. When dealing in the emerging markets the criminals that are usually involved in kidnap for ransom are professional, organised to some degree and ruthless; extreme violence is a part of life and 1st world problems are not considered problems, to put it politely.
Hollywood and TV industry has glamorized the K&R business and sadly seems to have set the standard for what, on the whole is an industry that is based on testosterone and James Bond driven fantasies… An industry who’s base objective is to suck money out of people who are in desperate situations. From my first hand knowledge of kidnapping situations in the Caribbean, Former USSR, Latin America and West Africa all I can say is its a very dirty business, on all sides!!
The below is taken from my book “Kidnap & Ransom”
Kidnapping for financial gain
Over the past decade kidnapping for ransom and hostage taking have become a booming multi-million dollar business. These days you do not need to be a high roller to be kidnapped or involved in a hostage situation, it can happen to anyone. If you are an international traveler you need to be especially aware of the threat from kidnapping even if you’re not going to one of the worlds kidnapping hotspots like Haiti, Mexico, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Nigeria, Columbia or the Philippines. The fact you are a foreigner can make you a target especially in poor countries, where the contents of the luggage, watch and jewelry of most travelers from the U.S. or Western Europe will at least match, if not far exceed the average monthly earnings of most citizens.
It is very difficult to get accurate figures on kidnapping rates as a lot of incidents are not reported to the authorities or media, also governments keen to attract tourists and investors try to keep official crime rates favorable. You should do your research and a threat assessment on all locations you’ll be visiting and identify what the main threat is. If you identify a kidnapping threat look for patterns in how the kidnappers operate and work out procedures to avoid them.
These days it makes sense for everyone to understand how to behave if they are involved in a kidnapping or hostage situation. The main threat to most people in developed countries is being caught up in a small scale crime that’s gone wrong like a bank robbery that turns into a hostage situations, or being held hostage in their workplace due to the actions of a disgruntled or mentally ill employee. In the emerging markets targeted and express kidnappings for financial gain or favors may be your main threat. The mindsets of criminals vary greatly from area to area and culture to culture, there is no profile that fits all kidnappers and all kidnapping situations tend to be unique. I tell my clients that their main concern if they are kidnapped or caught in a hostage situation is to just stay alive to be released or to escape.
When we talk about kidnapping most people immediately think of kidnapping for ransom, which is a very lucrative business in some countries. If someone is kidnapped for ransom or favors you need to remember that the person is a valuable commodity to be bargained for, they will be kept alive as long as the kidnappers believe that they are of value. The negotiation for this type of kidnapping is a business negotiation; you’re buying back an asset.
There are cases where people are kidnapped for favors not money. For example a son or daughter of an influential person would be kidnapped and released after the parents have done the criminals a favor. There was one incident in South America several years ago where a left wing terrorist group kidnapped a young woman, and for her release requested that her father shoot and kill one of his business associates, the father refused and his daughter was killed. This would be an extremely difficult situation to deal with as the terms were very rigid.
If the kidnappers are professionals there is a good chance that a hostage would be released when the ransom demands are met, it would be a bad business practice not to, as it would deter payments for future hostages. On the other side of the coin if the ransom demands are not met, it would be a good business practice to execute the hostage, to encourage future payments. The professionalism of kidnappers varies greatly from those that are highly skilled to Neanderthals; all, however, are capable of extreme violence.
Express kidnapping is a crime which has boomed over the last decade with incidents taking place globally, from Caracas to Vladivostok. Express kidnapping can be classed as a more comprehensive version of mugging. There have been cases in London where victims have been snatched from the street and kept in captivity for several days until their bank accounts have been emptied via ATM machines, online money transfers or checks etc.
One classic example of an express kidnapping that I know of happened to a businessman visiting a Central American country. When he arrived at the airport he went to the taxi rank and got a taxi to take him to his hotel, about 10 minutes into the drive the taxi pulled over and in jumped two men with guns. The victim was handcuffed, threatened and robbed to start with. He was driven to numerous ATM machines until he could not take out any more money on his bank cards. As he was being driven around one of the kidnappers was making phone calls trying to sell him to other groups, luckily for him no one wanted to buy him. The criminals had his passport and took his picture on a cell phone, then told him if he reported anything to the police they would find out, as they worked with the police, then they would come and kill him. The man went to his Embassy and they told him he was lucky, everything he lost could be replaced and not to report the incident to the police.
The chances are that the fact this man was a foreigner could have saved him from being sold on and into a ransom situation. These were not sophisticated criminals who had the skills and resources to be able to handle a high profile kidnapping. As I have stated before criminals don’t want attention and the kidnapping of foreigners usually brings attention from the international media and the Embassy of the victim, which means embarrassment for the government and pressure on local law enforcement to do something.
Express kidnappings are safer and more convenient for criminals, who do not need to be highly skilled and connected to pull them off. In a typical kidnapping the criminals will usually go to a wealthy area and look for a suitable target, someone who looks like they have some money and then snatch them. Once they have the victim they’ll be robbed, taken to ATM’s, sexually assaulted etc. If the victim has a cell phone the criminals may use it to contact their family for a ransom, the amounts requested in express kidnappings tend to be low. This is where locals make better targets than visitors; In say, Venezuela it would be easier and quicker for a resident businessman in Caracas to get and deliver a thirty thousand dollar ransom to kidnappers than it would be for the family of a kidnapped student who may live in Helsinki.
The main problems with express kidnappings are that the kidnappers are generally not what could be classed as high end criminals. This means they tend to be more violent and unpredictable than groups that target higher profile victims for large ransoms. As always, if ransoms are paid in express kidnappings there is no guarantee the victim will be released, especially if they can identify the criminals or have been sexually assaulted.
I have seen the courses some offer where people are put though BS fake kidnappings and interrogations etc. None of which comes close to old skool military training let alone a cartel kidnapping. I have also been approached many times by those selling kidnap & ransom insurance, for if the client gets kidnapped… People, the aim is not to get kidnapped in the first place! You think the insurance sales people give a crap as long as you make the policy payments and if you’re kidnapped they will be looking for every reason to void the policy due to you negligence. Also considering a lot of countries now have strict laws on dealing with kidnapping and ransom situations, the insurance policies are best taken with a pinch of salt and left for Hollywood to make movies about!
So, the golden rule: Don’t get kidnapped!! Plan, prepare, avoid, avoid and avoid… And… Don’t get kidnapped!!
“Stay low and keep moving”