Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tip of the Day: Preventing Your Becoming a Victim of an "Express" Kidnapping, Yes, It Can Be Done

I have debriefed perhaps a hundred or more victims of an "express" kidnapping over the last 30 years.

While all of the individual facts, dates, circumstances and outcomes vary slightly, there are specific traits that are common to most short-term abductions lasting a few days:

1.  Most "express" kidnappings involve perpetrators who use a firearm or bladed weapon;

2. Victims who resist such tactics are often injured or killed. See below;

3. "Express" kidnappings often involve multiple assailants; and

4. Typically, short-term abductions occur in one of three ways:

a. Victims are actually abducted  by mean-spirited people who make monetary demands;

b. Victims are often unaware that family members have been contacted without the victim's knowledge, which is why I urge travelers to stay in close touch with family/friends while traveling, particularly abroad; and

c. Family and/or friends are contacted by extortionists who are counting on the fact that foreign victims may not have access to the Internet.

"Express" kidnapping AKA (also known as) "secuestro express" can happen to anyone, particularly those traveling in developing countries. Those most at risk are those that exercise deficient personal security awareness.

An "express kidnapping" is a short-term abduction, usually lasting less than than 36 hours.

Most short-term kidnappers are attracted by targets who display evidence of prosperity (expensive looking watches and jewelry, patrons who frequent expensive restaurants, shop in jewelry stores, etc.).

Armed kidnappers generally abduct a target who is solo and may be either walking as a pedestrian or driving a luxury vehicle in conjunction with an armed carjacking.

Typically, the average short-term kidnapping generally surrounds targets that may be viewed as prosperous and particularly those that are observed using ATMs or cash machines, particularly those situated on street-level where their movements can be observed by criminals. 

The ideal target is generally a foreigner staying at a four-to-five-star hotel.

In most cases, assailants wait for their victims to be in an isolated area where they can be abducted without the observance of others.

Invariably, kidnappers take the victim to an isolated ATM and force him or her to make the maximum withdrawal from a sparsely used cash machine whereby the assailants use ski masks to conceal their identities and potentially hold them over until the next day when they can make another maximum withdrawal. Easy money.

A variation of this tactic is to hold the person until family or friends provide a specified amount of cash, jewelry, or valuables.

Surprisingly, less than 10% short-term abductions are reported to police, largely because it is embarrassing and because police usually have few leans to go on, particularly when gloves and ski-masks are used.

The above being said, I strongly urge victims of an "express" kidnapping to report the matter to police, particularly if you have been injured or harmed or your vehicle has been stolen as a result of the crime. 

Without a police report and an translated version in the victim's language, insurance claims go nowhere.

Here are three examples of short-term kidnappings:

1. In 2000, while playing golf outside the capital of Georgetown, Guyana, US Embassy Regional Security Officer Steve Lesniak was kidnapped. The kidnappers threatened to kill him if a ransom of $300,000 was not paid. When the US government refused the kidnappers’ demand, Steve’s girlfriend and family facilitated a ransom payment of a lesser amount, and Lesniak was released;

2. In 2005,  a Mexican businessman arriving at the international airport in Caracas, Venezuela, from Mexico City, México, was confronted by a man as he used an ATM in an isolated area of the airport. The man, who had approached the victim earlier in the arrival area to offer services, lifted his shirt to display a handgun tucked in his waistband. The man escorted the businessman to a taxi, where another assailant was waiting. The businessman was taken into Caracas and driven to several ATMs to withdraw money from his accounts. He was later released unharmed; and

3. In 2007,  after picking up two friends in his vehicle, a 38-year-old São Paulo, Brazil, topographer was forced to stop by a car driven by three men brandishing firearms. The three victims were taken to an isolated area, where they were pushed into a dark, deep hole in the ground. The victims were forced at gunpoint to hand over their ATM cards and PINs. Two of the kidnappers left with the credit cards to withdraw money from an ATM, while the third remained with the victims. The topographer had a preexisting medical condition that resulted in chronic cramping in his elbows. The kidnapper mistook a sudden movement on the part of the topographer to ease the elbow pain as an aggressive act and shot the topographer in the head. When the other two kidnappers returned and saw that the topographer was dead, they decided to kill the other two victims. The gunmen opened fire on the two remaining victims, who feigned death. The kidnappers fled in the topographer's vehicle; the surviving victims notified police.

If you remember nothing else from this posting, remember this: NEVER resist an abduction. Period. Invariably, criminals that rob people for a living are unlikely to ever be arrested, much less convicted.

Dying over property that can be replaced is never a prudent choice. Cooperate fully.