Virtual Kidnapping: A Real Life Cautionary Tale

By June 10, 2019 Security

No one is immune to the risk of Kidnap for Ransom (K&R) during international travel, whether for business or pleasure. This includes virtual kidnapping, a modified version of K&R. Unlike traditional kidnappings, virtual kidnappings occur mostly via phone calls, and make use of intimidation and threats to psychologically control victims and make them believe they are being watched and in imminent danger if they don’t follow directions and comply with the kidnappers. Once the victim is under control, the victim’s family and/or employer is contacted and negotiations begin for a ransom so the victim can be released.

This type of kidnapping has become more popular because of its ease of execution and less likelihood of the perpetrators being identified and arrested. Virtual kidnappings are now surpassing the traditional methods of abducting and physically holding a victim until a ransom is paid. With virtual kidnapping the victim is never physically abducted, but made to believe there is someone surveilling them and that abduction and violence (to include death) will occur if the kidnapper’s instructions are not followed to the letter. A recent incident involving a close relative of our TAL Global resources in Southern Mexico better illustrates this threat and how it can wreak havoc on organizations and families alike.

No One Is Immune, Not Even Us

While on a business trip, a US-based relative of a TAL Global executive protection resource working out of Southern Mexico was contacted by a kidnapper via cell phone at her hotel room. During the call, the kidnapper told the victim she was being watched and needed to comply with instructions.

The victim was presented with personal information the kidnapper knew about her, including names of her immediate family members, her address in the US, the type of vehicle she drove, where she worked and other intimate details of her family and work life back home. She was told to go and purchase a new cell phone at a nearby location, return to her room and remain there until she was called again with further instructions. The victim complied, and while walking to the phone store she noticed a number of individuals she believed were observing her every move. While the victim was purchasing the new cell phone, her mother was contacted by the kidnappers with a demand of US$75,000 for the safe release of her daughter.

The Plot Thickens

For the next four days, the victim remained in her sequestered hotel room. She received calls from time to time from the kidnapper with additional questions regarding her family and to assert control via threats of imminent violence if she did not comply. In the meantime, negotiations were ongoing with the family and also with the employer. Proof of Life was provided via very limited and controlled calls between the family and employer and the victim. During this time, the assistance of a K&R expert was obtained and the ransom amount was negotiated down to approximately 10% of the original demand. An international currency transfer service was used to pay the ransom as negotiated. The victim was finally released at the end of the four -day ordeal, uninjured. She immediately returned to the US.

Conclusion

Virtual kidnappings can happen to anyone on international travel. Protecting yourself with the following preventive strategy can help minimize the threat:
  • Use a Security Driver during any international travel period (airport pickup, hotel transportation, transportation to and from company offices overseas, etc.)
  • During travel, be discreet regarding personal and business information.
  • Maintain anonymity to the highest degree possible.
  • Avoid wearing expensive clothes and jewelry, or talking about money or wealth in public.
  • Be aware of people you meet during your travels. They often inadvertently can share details about you that others can use for criminal attacks, including K&R.

TAL Global is an elite security consulting and risk management firm that protects human and physical assets around the globe. A team of world-class, interdisciplinary security experts join forces to identify, analyze and mitigate risk for our clients and their organizations from every vulnerability – inside and out. We offer a wide range of security solutions for international travel, including:

  • Executive protection
  • Secure transportation
  • Security briefings on current state of any given destination

Please contact us to discuss how we can help with your travel security needs. As always, we value your feedback which helps us shape our perspective on recent events, security and the services we offer.

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Stay safe,
Your Friends @ TAL Global

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