“Express Kidnappings”- No just a Third World Problem!

kidnappingWhen we hear of a kidnapping we usually think of it in the context of extortion for some type of ransom. Politically, a kidnapping may take place in an attempt to gain leverage over a government or state entity. But what is an “express kidnapping” and why are we hearing that term more often of late?

“Express kidnapping” is a term typically used to describe the abduction of a person with the intent of holding them for just long enough to visit multiple ATM machines, in order to draw the maximum amount of cash allowed in any given time period. Most card holder accounts limit the amount of cash that can be drawn on any one transaction or in any 24 hour time period.

The Brazilians often refer to this as a  Sequestro Relampago which literally means “Lightening Kidnapping”

This type of crime is more common in Third World countries and may start out as a carjacking of an unaware citizen or traveler. Alternately the victim might be robbed and then thrown into the perpetrators vehicle in which the crime spree will continue. Rouge taxi drivers also take advantage of tourists day or night and especially if their fare is intoxicated. Alternately, an unsuspecting traveler may get into a rouge cab drivers vehicle upon arriving at the airport.

Although in most cases the victim is not held for very long, there is a risk that the victim will be murdered at the end of the crime spree so that they will not be able to ID the perpetrators if apprehended. Obviously female victims run the risk of sexual assault during this time period. As with any crime, the simple intent to rob can easily degenerate into violence if things do not go smoothly especially during the actual abduction phase.

While express kidnappings are seen more frequently in developing countries, there have been reports of an increase in the incidence of such crimes here in the United States. These are most often crimes of opportunity and avoidance always starts with good situational awareness and knowing who is around you and what they are up to.

If you are traveling on business familiarize yourself with the areas you will be staying and working. Be sure to know what parts of town to avoid and always use well vetted ground transportation especially when it comes to taxis. Dressing down and not wearing expensive jewelery helps you blend in. Laptops, cameras and electronics draw unwanted attention.

Traveling in groups always makes you a more difficult target. Avoid isolated or “fringe” areas and be wary of groups of young males who seem out of place. Also remember that recent FBI reports state that females continue to play a larger role in gang activity here in the United States.

Never approach a vehicle that has pulled up alongside to ask for directions etc. Keep walking, and move toward a busier area. Walking against the flow of traffic also makes it more difficult for a vehicle to pull alongside.

If you must use an ATM do so in a well light and busy area. Be aware that this is often where perpetrators do their surveillance from a standoff position then perhaps follow the prospective victim to a quiet or isolated area before striking. Although less convenient, try complete all financial transactions inside a bank branch.

If you get an uneasy feeling about using an ATM despite any tangible reason to be suspect, always honor your instincts and leave the area and complete the transaction elsewhere. Never deem your instincts to be irrational or silly, they are rarely wrong!

Whether traveling, or at home,  make yourself less predictable in terms of which bank branch or ATM you use and at what time of the day. Try vary the routes you walk and drive.  If you are aware of your surroundings and less predictable in your habits and patterns you present as a harder target in general.

If you will be traveling abroad, please visit the State Departments website during the planning phase of your trip and visit their Current Travel Warnings list.

Larry Kaminer

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