Monday, October 14, 2013

México: Foreign Travelers Should Stay in Touch with Family, Friends to Counter "Virtual Abduction"

According to The Latin American Tribune, an increasing number of criminals are capitalizing on the sense of fear and insecurity that exists throughout in México to extort money from victims, both residents and visitors, using the Internet as an innovative tool to achieve their dastardly deeds.

This deception is not new, but takes advantage of personal information already on the Internet (e.g., Facebook, Face-time, Twitter, etc.) whereby criminals capture personal data already on the web such as victims' hometown, email addresses, schools they attended and other critical data only to extort money from residents and foreign travelers alike who are traveling from home within México.

One recent victim of Web-based extortion was the Spanish gang known as Delorean, whose members were “virtually” kidnapped in México by criminals who threatened to kill them if their family members in Spain did not come up with an undisclosed amount of money.

Typically, criminals use confederates with advanced computer skills to cull photographs, ages, addresses, email addresses and travel itineraries from social networks which eases a phone call (from an untraceable mobile) to extort large sums of money from family members in México or abroad using a technique known as a "virtual kidnapping," when in fact the would-be victim is completely fine and safe.

COMMENT: Regardless of whether the virtual "target" is a resident or a foreign traveler, it is essential that travelers to Mexican destinations, do the following:

1. Register your itinerary and personal information with your appropriate foreign affairs agency before departure;

2. Provide a copy of your intended travel schedule to immediate family members and close friends before departure;

3. Be extremely cautious in establishing a presence on social media sites as it is a common technique for criminals to pull personal data and photographs from such sites in order to build enough information from the web to be convincing when they contact family members to extort money from them, telling them that you have been abducted or are being held against your will;

4. Most social media organizations enable you to minimize privacy information which can be seen by others. Use these preferences very carefully and permit only your closest circle of family and friends to be able to contact you;

5.  Open a Skype account if you don't have one, so that you can stay in touch with family and friends while in México, to ease their anxiety while you're gone;

6. E-mail family and friends daily and use to let them know that you are well; 

7. Keep the phone number of your local police department in your speed-dialer as well as the local office of federal law enforcement so that if you receive a strange call from México (or any other country) while family and friends are abroad, you'll be able to contact them promptly for assistance; and

8. Do NOT report an alleged abduction of a family member or friend to Mexican law enforcement until you have reported possible foul play to police agencies in your home country, as institutional corruption in México is among the worst in the world.