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Express, virtual kidnap view

Kidnapping remains one of the most disturbing occurrences that could happen to anyone. Holly Brierley of Blackstone Consultancy Limited highlights the various forms of kidnapping in modern society; and the ways you can protect yourself and your family from being targeted.

Kidnappings can take various forms; with each case differing in its objective, degree, severity and conclusion. As of 2016, the top five countries for kidnap of foreign nationals were Mexico, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria and the Philippines. When considering kidnap statistics, duration in captivity can be astounding. Nations including Syria, Mali and North Korea have an average time in captivity of 500-plus days and the most frequent occupational workers being kidnapped are construction-engineering, extractive industries, and NGO and aid workers. Perhaps the most staggering statistic, according to Havocscope, is the estimation that at the end of 2010 ransom payments made to kidnappers across the globe was in the region of $1.5 billion.

A kidnapping that garnered media attention in recent months was that of 20-year-old British female Chloe Ayling who travelled to Milan for a photo-shoot on July 11, 2017. Having discovered the photo-shoot to be a hoax, Chloe was allegedly kidnapped by a group named “Black Death”. Italian Police stated she was held against her will, drugged and that the kidnappers arranged for Chloe to be sold via an online auction for £230,000. Chloe’s captors also demanded her agent to pay a ransom fee. Six days later, Chloe was released to the British Consulate.

Authorities have seen a significant increase in the number of ‘virtual kidnapping scams’ being carried out on high net worth individuals. A notable example of this scam 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 meeting point, they would slash her child’s throat.

After negotiating with the man, Kerri hung up and immediately called both of her children, but one didn’t answer so she rang the police. The operator believed she had been a victim of a scam and moments later her other child called back. All it took to carry out this virtual kidnapping scam was Kerri’s name, phone number, address and her child’s name. Nowadays, much of this private information is made readily available through social media which has led to a substantial rise in the number of virtual kidnapping scams, particularly in the USA and Mexico. To prevent your family from falling victim to these highly convincing scams, you should always check the Caller ID information – if the phone number is not blocked and the area code is not from nearby, some credibility is lost. You should also pay close attention to typical scam characteristics including aggressiveness, a sense of urgency, fake screaming and instructions not to call the police. Keep the scammer on the phone and text the alleged abductee immediately to verify whether the threat is genuine.

Another kidnapping trend that has become increasingly popular is ‘tiger kidnap’. Despite not being a legally defined crime, ‘tiger kidnap’ is a term commonly used by law enforcement to refer to a collection of offences surrounding the abduction or alleged holding of hostages 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 instead to use the threat of violence as leverage to force an innocent party to participate in a crime. Victims tend to work in industries where cash is being handled – banks, cash-in-transit, post office, currency exchange, etc. Tiger kidnapping has been prevalent in Ireland since the early 1970’s and there are still tiger kidnapping gangs operating in certain areas of Ireland.

For example, on December 2, 2015, a cash in transit employee was abducted from his home on Gracefield Road in Artane, Ireland. At 8pm, three masked, armed assailants broke into his home. At 5am, the assailants bound and tied his wife and daughter, threw them in the back of a vehicle and drove them around whilst he was forced to attend his job as normal at a cash-in transit company. 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. He was also instructed to place 225,000 euros into the back of a van. At 8:30am he was told to retrieve a larger sum of money. Fortunately, he managed to raise the alarm with his co-workers before this took place.

Another highly unsettling kidnapping trend that individuals 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 ATM account.

The following is an ‘express kidnap’ case study where the victim has chosen to remain anonymous. Adam decided to walk home from Clapham Common after a night out as he had no money for a taxi. Suddenly, Adam was punched from behind and knocked to the floor whereupon he was subjected to multiple kicks and punches.

A vehicle pulled alongside him and Adam was dragged into the back seat. The attackers went through his wallet and forced him to provide the PIN numbers to his bank cards. Adam’s kidnappers stopped periodically to withdraw as much cash as possible from multiple ATMs. They drove around for the next hour, repeatedly hitting Adam in the head with their firearms. Adam was stabbed in the leg, knocked unconscious and taken to an apartment. Believing that he was about to be murdered, Adam was able to escape and alerted authorities of his horrific ordeal.

It is not clear to what extent Adam’s attackers planned this express kidnapping but Adam presented himself as a prime target; walking home alone at night and slightly intoxicated. It is vital that individuals identify these traits to prevent themselves from being targeted by opportunistic kidnappers.

In their essence, kidnappings occur because they provide an effective means for criminals to gain exactly what they want. Consequently, it is crucial that individuals understand the potential risks of kidnapping posed to themselves, their family members, or even their data, and implement effective strategies to mitigate these risks. A proactive anti-kidnapping strategy should target three key phases: pre-offence, during the incident, and post-event. The most important of these phases is the pre-offence stage where offenders engage in lengthy target selection and planning. If you can present yourself as someone who would be difficult to kidnap with a low level reward, i.e. by travelling in numbers and refraining from divulging confidential data online via social media, then you can significantly reduce your chances of being targeted for kidnap.

Visit www.blackstoneconsultancy.com.


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