There’s no doubt that kidnapping remains one of the most frightening crimes that could happen to an individual, writes the Blackstone Consultancy. The term kidnapping covers a broad range of related crimes, with each case differing in its objective, degree, severity and conclusion. What, then, can individuals and organisations do to make themselves less vulnerable to those who might target them with ill-intent in mind?
Consider the complex case of British war photographer and correspondent John Cantlie who was kidnapped not for the first time, but for a second time in Syria back in 2012. In July last year, the Al-Sura News Agency alleged that Cantlie had been killed, but a recent undated video from 2016 appears to show Cantlie alive and well. Cantlie’s current status is unknown and, for now, he’s listed with sad ambiguity as ‘Disappeared’. According to Wikipedia, Cantlie remains a hostage.
As of 2016, the top five countries for the kidnap of foreign nationals were Mexico, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria and the Philippines. Kidnaps may also be a lengthy ordeal depending on the nature of the group involved, with rebel and criminal groups in nations including Syria, Mali and North Korea holding hostages often for 500-plus days.
The most popular common occupations of the victims of kidnap tend to be workers in the spheres of construction/engineering, the extractive industries and the NGO/aid sector. This is in some ways no surprise, as those jobs often require individuals to be ‘on site’ in what may be dangerous locations.
Authorities have also seen a significant increase in the number of ‘virtual kidnapping scams’ being carried out on high net worth individuals. A notable example occurred in early 2017 when Emmy Award-winning television executive producer Kerri Zane received a terrifying phone call. She heard a young person’s voice screaming for ‘Mom’ to help, followed by an agitated man claiming to be from a Mexican mafia who told Zane that her child was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The man claimed that Zane’s child had seen something they shouldn’t and, if she didn’t bring a substantial amount of money to a designated meeting point, they would slash her child’s throat.
Thankfully, Zane realised it was a scam after the ‘missing’ child called back, but others have not been so lucky and have given the scammers considerable sums of money rather than take a chance with the life of a loved one.
Tiger kidnap: the threat of violence
Another kidnapping trend is something known as the ‘tiger kidnap’. Despite not being a legally defined crime, ‘tiger kidnap’ is a term commonly used by law enforcement officials to refer to a collection of offences surrounding the abduction or alleged holding of hostages in order to persuade a person to partake in a crime. The aim of the criminals is not to extort money from the victim’s family, but rather to use the threat of violence as leverage to force an innocent party to participate in a crime.
Victims of this form of kidnapping tend to work in those industries where cash is being handled including banking, Cash-in-Transit operations, Post Offices and currency exchanges, etc.
On 2 December 2015, a Cash-in-Transit employee was abducted from his home on Gracefield Road in Artane, Ireland after three masked and armed assailants broke into his home. At 5.00 am, the assailants bound and tied the male’s wife and daughter, put them in the back of a vehicle and drove them around while the male was forced to attend his job as normal at a Cash-in-Transit business.
He carried out his airport run as usual and handed over a large sum of cash to the assailants in the grounds of Dublin Airport. The male was also instructed to place 225,000 Euros into the back of a van.
At 8.30 am, he was told to retrieve a larger sum of money. Fortunately, the man managed to raise the alarm with his co-workers before this took place.
Another highly unsettling kidnapping trend that individuals now face is ‘express kidnap’. Usually violent in nature, ‘express kidnap’ is a method of abduction wherein a comparatively small ransom is demanded either from a relative of the victim, or through the victim being forced to withdraw money from their account at an ATM.
Helping to prevent kidnap
As is the case with many security issues, there’s no specific set of behaviours that companies can adopt in a bid to prevent kidnap. The specific risks involved will relate to the location and industry with which an organisation is involved.
That said, there are some methods that both individuals and corporate groups can adopt to help safeguard themselves from kidnappers. Perhaps the best mantra to bear in mind when trying to mitigate the risk of abduction is ‘Deter, Detect, Impede’: a simple, but practical mode of crime prevention suggested, in fact, by the Metropolitan Police Service.
Kidnappers always prefer to target individuals who come across as unaware of their surroundings and will likely seek other victims if a target is deemed to be ‘too tough’. Like many forms of criminal enterprise, kidnap is based on the concept of risk-reward. If an attempt is deemed too risky when compared to the pay-out, criminals will seek softer targets elsewhere. By appearing prepared and alert, both companies and individuals can deter and displace the threat elsewhere. Much of creating an effect of displacement is how a prospective target behaves. Kidnappings are seldom random: criminals will often have spent hours (or even weeks) carefully profiling a selected target.
Personal security measures such as ensuring people know where you are, using common sense and taking even basic security precautions can help companies and individuals avoid appearing as ‘soft targets’. Equally, companies that have vigilant and robust security measures in place (such as staff that challenge suspicious individuals) can also help displace the threat. How visible the display of vigilance needs to be is dependent on the scale of the threat.
Another tactic individuals can use is simply to make themselves unobtrusive, minimise their online presence and obscure details such as their address, place of work and their daily movements. This makes it much harder for criminals to target them and, correspondingly, helps to lower the threat against them as well.
The concept of displacing the threat also extends to detection. If a criminal group is detected, they are far less likely to move ahead with their plans. If their cover is blown, then an attempted kidnap might result in a trap sprung by the authorities. Detecting and disrupting the targeting phase of kidnap is therefore critical in keeping employees and individuals safe.
It can also help to understand the potential threat via the use of risk assessments. Many security groups can provide risk assessments to help companies understand the threats that exist and how to reduce them. Studying past kidnap incidents, the crime rates of cities or districts, how previous incidents occurred and to whom can all assist in mitigating the risk posed by kidnappers.
Education can allow both companies and individuals to spot potentially suspicious behaviour or patterns of events that precede a kidnap taking place. Disrupting the targeting phase and alerting the authorities will certainly force criminal groups to take a step back and, potentially at least, even remove the company or family from the criminals’ ‘portfolio’ of suitable targets.
Kidnappers will be looking for ‘weak points’ in a target’s routine. This might be when they’re moving between an office or a vehicle or when they’re in transit. A key method of impeding a potential kidnap attempt is to make these vulnerable points as tough as possible. This might be as simple as ensuring that car doors and windows are locked or using multiple different routes to a location in order to avoid a predictable routine. In a more hostile environment it might well prove to be the case that a security detail represents a sensible precaution.
In some cases, and especially so with regards to kidnap scams, some methods can eliminate the threat entirely. GPS tracking, for example, is highly effective in preventing kidnap scams as a quick glance can show that nothing is amiss. Many commercial tracking systems also come supplied with alert/alarm buttons that can either inform the authorities or a dedicated response team that an incident is occurring. Although this doesn’t assist in preventing a kidnap, it can bring a given occurrence to a speedy and safe conclusion.
*Blackstone Consultancy is a private security specialist providing myriad individuals and companies alike with bespoke security arrangements. For further information visit www.blackstoneconsultancy.com