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Covid 19’s impact on the Security, Extortion and Kidnap climate
Lockdown, quiet streets and a lack of foreign visitors and the wider deployment of police and security services has seen a decline in global crime and kidnappings… however the pandemic’s assault on fragile economies and states is widely expected to trigger a spike in kidnaps - especially where crime was already rife.
The traditional volatile hotbeds in sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, Latin America and Asia are all expected to see the largest rise. Perhaps no surprise when kidnapping incidents in the conflict zones of Nigeria, Yemen, Mexico and Syria have all continued to be reported despite the outbreak taking hold.
In March of this year two football league players were kidnapped from their car in Nigeria, pirates boarded a Portuguese container ship (Gulf of Guinea) taking seven crew hostage, and in West Africa, two kidnap victims - released in Mali after 4 months of captivity- were bemused to be greeted by elbow bumps from officials.
A perfect storm continues to brew as the pandemic fuels increasing geopolitical and friction in local communities.
The ingredients that lead to serious crime and kidnappings are rife; consider disruptions to humanitarian aid, diplomacy and peace operations. Throw in increased poverty, a lack of alternative income, weak institutions and the exploitation by terrorist, militant and criminal groups then the outlook is pretty bleak.
Latin America and Southern Italy have seen gangs acting as lockdown enforcers, the US and UK has seen thefts of medical equipment, and terrorist groups such as ISIS and al Shabbab in Somalia have all exploited past disorder to gain support and fighters. The easing of lockdowns, the unstable security environment and high levels of systemic corruption will expose us all to greater peril as nefarious elements look to bolster their profiles and replace lost incomes to feed their families.
What is Virtual Kidnap & extortion and how will it impact us in a new covid 19 world?
Basically it means deceiving or scamming a victim into believing a loved one has been detained, injured or kidnapped for illicit gain. In its crudest form it takes little more than a petty criminal, a telephone or contact list and an unsuspecting victim. Extortion funds can change hands whilst the subject of the deceit is sitting idly by a hotel swimming pool, oblivious that their phone has been hacked and their family are being fleeced.
Scams take many forms, some use sophisticated intelligence gathering to build a victim profile, others use simple ID spoofing that shows pernicious incoming calls as numbers of trusted contacts or official sources.
A well-worn fraud takes the form of a relative being involved in a traffic accident...an ambulance only being dispatched upon release of an immediate down payment. Unsurprisingly a Covid 19 variant has been reported by INTERPOL by means of scammers impersonating hospital staff. Payments for medical treatment have been elicited for a loved one who has supposedly fallen sick with the virus.
On a macro level it’s no surprise to learn that Covid 19 will only fan the flames for undesirable activity of this type. Remote working, urgency, exploited communication channels and increased anxiety and fear generally will only exacerbate the willingness of criminals to exploit us, and us in turn to be more susceptible.
Furthermore, virtual kidnapping is evolving. It is no longer just the preserve of criminal gangs working out of prisons in Mexico and Brazil. The FBI has reported serious upturns from domestic sources. Spanish police too reported 140 attempted cases in 2019. Shockingly the perpetrators seek to provoke maximum anguish and have been known to use social media information to lend credibility or even imitate the screams of supposed victims. All tactics aim to elicit a fast payment or trip to an ATM to withdraw cash.
Covid 19 has seen a new twist on the blackmail attempt to have access to your personal information and “dirty secrets”. Sickeningly this version comes with the threat to not only release your information but infect your family with the virus unless payment is sent by bitcoin.
Covid 19 is sadly a criminal’s goldmine - we all must take steps and be wise to virtual extortion. We must be vigilant and seek to vaccinate ourselves against the dual “diseases” of both the virus itself and the criminals themselves who seek to profit from it.
Kidnap & Extortion News in Brief : 10 facts …..2019 into 1Q 2020.
80% of kidnaps lasted less than one week and 6% for more than 4 weeks.
The Americas (Mexico, Venezuela and Columbia etc) remained the region with the highest number of incidents in the world at 38% of the total in 2019. India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Haiti recorded high levels also. West African maritime kidnaps continue unabated.
At least 9 US and one French National have been kidnapped in Haiti in 1Q 2020.
Kidnappers have targetted greater numbers of local nationals as international travel bans and decreased counter terrorism operations and an absence of foreign nationals have taken effect.
Three police officers in South Africa (April 2 - Gauteng Province) have been arrested after allegedly threatening to impound a foreign national’s vehicle unless he paid them USD 400.
A US security contractor was reported to have been kidnapped in Afghanistan (near Pakistani border) on the 6th February,- currently unknown if a ransom has been demanded and no group has yet claimed responsibility.
A 32- year old Singaporean businessman and reported blockchain expert was kidnapped in Thailand and tortured in various forest locations. He was released on 13 January after he paid a ransom of 62,500 bitcoin.
Cartels in El Salvador have “waived” extortion payments for street traders- fears are post lockdown collections will be made more penal to offset the eventual shortfall prompting further violence.
Whilst Virtual Kidnapping has risen over the last few years there has been a dramatic uptick in its frequency in Spain and the USA.
Crypto Currencies continued to be the more widely “preferred” payment of ransoms.