A special guest post by Global Security Consultant and Political Risk Expert, Paul Crespo.
Getting kidnapped while traveling internationally is a real and present danger. Kidnap for ransom, versus kidnapping for political goals, is a fast-growing worldwide industry. The majority of these kidnappings are purely for financial gain and are seen simply as business transactions.
High Risk Countries
Countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia are obvious high-risk locations for kidnappings. There is however an ever growing kidnap risk to business executives traveling to countries such as Colombia, the Philippines, Mexico, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ecuador and Brazil.
Latin America remains one the most dangerous places for kidnapping, with Mexico being the highest kidnap threat. The number of kidnappings there has exploded in recent years due to the drug wars. Statistics on kidnappings are hard to confirm because the majority go unreported, but estimates range from 5,000 to over 10,000 kidnappings per year.
Venezuela has become the second riskiest country for kidnappings, with over 2,000 recorded kidnappings in 2011, and growing at an alarming rate.
Meanwhile Brazil has become a key country for ‘express kidnapping’ where victims are held at gun point or carjacked – usually just before midnight – and forced to withdraw their daily allowance over two days from an ATM. These express kidnappings are also becoming increasingly violent, with beatings and rape more prevalent.
How to Prepare for and Avoid Kidnapping
Two of the best weapons to lessen your chances of getting kidnapped, or surviving a kidnapping if it occurs, is Kidnap & Ransom (K&R) insurance and preventive employee security training. Both should be considered part of every at-risk organization’s risk-management arsenal.
Employee security training conducted by trained professionals is the key to prevention, while individuals with K&R insurance are four times more likely to survive a kidnapping if prevention fails, than non-insured travelers.
K&R insurance is valuable because it typically includes provisions for providing professional security consultants for preventive training, and if prevention fails, generally provide kidnap negotiators and covers ransom and extortion payments, theft of ransom money, injury or death of victims during attempted rescue, transportation costs, payments to informants, etc., when a kidnapping occurs.
11 Steps to Prevent Kidnapping
Whether or not you have insurance or training, the following are important factors to keep in mind and measures to take to avoid kidnapping*:
- Don’t assume you’re immune because you’re not wealthy. The most frequent kidnapping targets are middle-class executives and their families.
- Don’t let your familiarity with a country and its people lull you into a false sense of security especially if you’re a frequent traveler, or an expatriate stationed abroad for an extended period of time. There are always hidden dangers.
- Don’t publicize travel plans and details. That can be a challenge in an era of over-sharing, especially in social media such as Facebook and Twitter, but increasingly, kidnappers monitor social media.
- Do conduct pre-travel due diligence. Get current security information on your travel destinations and travel warnings from official sources, like the US State Department, or reputable corporate security companies.
- Do maintain a low profile when traveling and don’t advertise your wealth or status. Dress down. Blend in. Leave flashy clothes and jewels at home. Don’t use expensive cars.
- Don’t flaunt your nationality. Especially if you’re American. In today’s world, American citizenship may make you the target of terrorist kidnappers.
- Do keep your passport safe. Know the location of your nearest embassy.
- Do vary your times and routine. Don’t travel the same road, jog the same trail, eat at the same bistro, or go to meetings at the same time every day.
- Do only use official taxi stands, preferably use hotel taxis. Don’t hail cabs on the street. If you step in a random cab abroad, you risk driving away in your kidnapper’s car.
- Do always be aware of your surroundings and avoid isolated or rural areas.
- Do be wary of local authorities. In some foreign countries, the local and state police may be your kidnappers, or be helping kidnappers gain intelligence on you.
* Parker, Smith & Feek (www.psfinc.com)
Bottom line, don’t make the kidnappers’ job any easier than necessary. Whenever you travel use common sense, take basic security precautions, and always maintain situational awareness. Making yourself a harder target will make kidnappers look elsewhere.
Next week: What to do if you are kidnapped. Don’t miss the first post in this series: Political Risk Insurance: Why Your International Business Must Have It
Be sure to read other posts in this series:
Paul Crespo is a global security and political risk expert. A Senior Consultant with Trident Crisis Management Group, he has appeared on Fox News, CNN and other major TV news venues. He has varied experience in corporate security, kidnap and ransom negotiations, intelligence and diplomacy as well as military operations in hotspots from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf. A former officer in the US Marine Corps he was also assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) as a military attaché and posted to several US embassies overseas. Paul graduated from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, and has a Masters degree in War Studies from Kings College, University of London, and a Masters degree in International Relations from Cambridge University in the UK. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org