How to avoid a kidnapping

Imagens Evangélicas/CC BY 2.0

It’s a changing world, people. Shrewd business people abound, on both sides of the law, all over the world. Welcome to the era of the 3-piece bullet-proof business suit, with matching fedora. Welcome to kidnapping.

Like any business people, the bad guys understand the market. In a classic example of supply and demand, abductors worldwide keep pace with rising middle classes in Latin America, India and China. These evil entrepreneurs may come from poor families, but never underestimate someone desperate enough to shove a gun in your face.

Most of these people want money. Some play it old school: the ransom note, the drop-off. Newer iterations include ‘borrowing’ someone for a quick buck, until the ATM account is milked dry (‘express’ kidnappings) and ‘virtual’ kidnappings, pretending to have kidnapped someone by using recordings, contact info and personal details cribbed from social media for a ransom SMS or phone call. In virtual kidnapping, the ‘abductors’ prey on people’s fears, hoping to get the cash in hand before little Sally gets home from Scouts.

Much, much scarier: people stealing people for political or religious reasons. More about that in a minute.

Because express kidnappings tend to last from a few hours to a couple of days, the risk of serious injury decreases. In virtual kidnapping, only pride sustains bruises.

But don’t get cocky. Remember what I said about the kind of folk who put guns in people’s faces? Express kidnappings are scary because they’re random. If you look like an affluent foreigner, you’re a target. And e-kidnappers, armed with your details, win before they even make the ransom call. What’s to keep a virtual kidnapper from selling your information to a real religious extremist?

How to avoid a kidnapping?

Arm yourself with information. What kind of kidnapping is prevalent in the area? How do local police respond? Whose side are they on? What motivates most abductors in the region: money, politics, or religion?

Make a plan.

If you’re this deep into the article, it’s time to think about hostile environment training and kidnap and ransom insurance. The training teaches kidnap-avoidance measures (vary your schedule and route to work) coping methods (keep your mind active: build your dream house, brick by brick, knit a jumper in your head) and escape techniques (some cars have emergency release levers inside the boot) Have a contingency plan ready: how will people know you’re missing, and not just on a bender in Baghdad.

They’ve got me. Now what?

A good kidnap and ransom policy includes crisis assistance, which kicks in if you go missing.

On their end: once alerted, the assistance team connects with local authorities, a negotiator gets dispatched, and security may be beefed up for close family back home.

On your end: trust your hostile environment training. Stay healthy. Try to figure out where you are. Don’t make waves. Try to connect with your captors using universal topics like weather and family. If you get the opportunity, use prearranged signals to indicate how you’re doing. Stay positive.

Once the cavalry arrive, do just what they say. Let your rescuers know that you’re a captive, not a captor. If you’ve been holed up for a while, it may be hard to tell the difference. You haven’t come this far to go down in friendly fire.

Coming home

Getting rescued isn’t the end. Back home, kidnap victims face floods of media coverage and debriefing sessions with authorities. Take your insurance company up on the counselling. Be prepared to give a version of your experience: at every dinner party you attend, for the rest of your life, you’ll be that guy/gal who got kidnapped. Guess it beats talking about the weather.