Kidnapping for ransom

Issue 6 2023 News & Events, Security Services & Risk Management, Risk Management & Resilience

Kidnapping for ransom threat in SA is no longer just a worry for the rich and powerful. Ordinary South Africans are increasingly becoming vulnerable to kidnapping, with the latest police crime statistics revealing an 8,6% increase in reported kidnapping cases compared to last year, with 3 854 cases reported between April and June this year.

An emerging trend is for criminal syndicates to target not only wealthy business people and their families, but also university students, who often make easy targets and are increasingly being snatched and held for ransom.

This is according to Justin Naylor, MD at iTOO Special Risks, who explains that university students – especially those who come from rural areas – are particularly vulnerable as they often attend university in places that are unfamiliar to them and far from anyone they know.

“University students by nature have lifestyles that are balanced between academia and exploring their new surroundings and meeting new people. Not having a support structure close by makes them easy targets for criminal syndicates, who then either demand a ransom from the student themselves or from their families back home,” says Naylor.

He notes that another disturbing trend that is on the rise is that of so-called ‘express kidnapping’, which refers to snatching a person and demanding that they withdraw money from an ATM or obtain a quick ransom from another source in exchange for their release.

Express kidnapping means the actual or attempted abduction and holding of a person against their will, where personal belongings and/or readily available assets of the captive person are surrendered in exchange for his or her release.

“Express kidnapping is all about making a quick buck. The syndicate does not want to incur the expense or risk of holding a kidnapped person overnight or any longer than they actually have to. Instead, they want to secure a ransom as quickly as possible before moving on to their next target,” says Naylor.

Express kidnapping, coupled with the fact that wealthy individuals themselves are no longer the sole targets of organised kidnapping syndicates and that the threat now increasingly extends to their family members, friends and associates, should be of great concern to ordinary South Africans.

“As we are seeing lately, kidnapping for ransom and extortion is becoming a very well-organised and very prevalent crime in this country. It is a lucrative enterprise that is driven largely by the tough economic conditions that are putting a financial strain on many people. In many cases, it is simply seen as an easy way to make money,” says Naylor.

“Unfortunately, the tough times also mean that kidnapping for ransom is no longer just a reality faced by the rich and the famous. These days, syndicates are known to snatch anyone with the means or the support network to raise a ransom amount – even if it is relatively small.”

Considering these trends, Naylor says that it is becoming increasingly important for people to consider insuring themselves against being abducted and that wealthy individuals should be aware that the threat extends not only to them, but also to their family members.

“Kidnap and ransom coverage can provide people who feel they and their families are at risk of becoming targets with the peace of mind of knowing that, in the event of a kidnapping, their insurance policy will enable the involvement of reputable specialist consultants who are qualified to deal with such situations,” he says.

In the case of iTOO, Naylor points out that the specialist risk insurer provides a kidnap and ransom policy that ensures coverage for the fees and expenses of response consultants, regardless of the duration of the crisis, the hostage negotiation fees, lost wages and – in some cases – the ransom amount.

iTOO’s specialist team operates in 80 countries, including South Africa, and has 13 full-time consultants, including a responder, based in Gauteng. As a form of extended assistance to victims, 10% of the policy premium is allocated to pre- and post-incident training/advice offered by the consultants.

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