Executives of companies have long been prime targets for kidnappers.

There are a variety of reasons as to why this is the case, be it an assumption of wealth on the part of the executive and their company, or political and ideological reasonings. Generally, however, the number one goal on the minds of kidnappers is money.

For some executives – particularly those who are younger or have never encountered such an incident – the idea of being kidnapped seems far away or inconceivable. After all, the kidnapping of corporate and NGO executives within the Western world is a rarity.

Despite this, the abduction of Westerners in non-Western countries has become something of a business model for career criminals and experienced kidnappers. In Mexico, for example, experts are now suggesting that kidnapping is becoming democratised, meaning it has become accessible to anyone and has a set of principles in place. This isn’t the only place where kidnapping is an issue and hostages are considered a ‘commodity’. Offshore kidnapping is high in the Gulf of Guinea, while Pakistan has a kidnap-and-ransom risk, and areas of the Middle East pose a serious danger to foreign nationals.

Kidnapping represents a real and present danger to corporate executives travelling and doing business abroad, and many large corporations now have measures in place to deal with this issue. In fact, three-quarters of all Fortune 500 companies have kidnap-and-ransom (K&R) insurance policies in place. Here, our security experts at Blackhawk Intelligence discuss the risks of kidnapping abroad, as well as some effective countermeasures that should be considered when doing business internationally.

The risk of kidnap-and-ransom

It’s believed that 97% of kidnappings (when involving professional negotiators) are resolved by ransom demands being met – with a very small percentage of situations ending in the hostage escaping, being rescued or being killed. The full extent of kidnapping data has been obfuscated due to companies and individuals not wanting to publicly reveal the occurrence of such incidents due to the impact this may have on their public image and security.

We do know that in 2013 there were 15,000 to 20,000 globally reported incidents of kidnap-for-ransom (K&R), which is concerning given the fact that experts believe 90% of K&R incidents go unreported – mainly due to fear of local police corruption, fear of reprisal and fear of bad brand publicity. Despite the clear statistical evidence, there are still many companies that, astonishingly, do not take the threat seriously.

When Aon – a provider of risk, retirement and health consultation – surveyed nearly 2,000 organisations across various industries in 64 regions in 2017, they found that the least feared risk was kidnapping, ransom and extortion. Interestingly, the number one concern to organisations was damage to their brand(s) or reputation. Despite the disparity of interest in these two risks, both often intersect.

A kidnapped executive can bring about bad press and reputational damage. Investigative journalists, for example, will not hesitate to report that a company did not have any K&R strategies in place if word gets out that an executive has been kidnapped. This sort of information can, very clearly, damage the brand(s) or reputation of a company or NGO.

With business becoming increasingly globalised, it seems naive for corporations not to recognise the threat of kidnapping as significant and serious. Year-on-year business travel spend growth is consistent, and is currently earmarked at 7%. In essence, this means that the international economy is not only conducive to the breakdown of borders but also lends itself to the potential for kidnap and ransom. Simply put, as the world becomes more connected, executives are required and expected to travel – and with travel comes the risk of K&R.

With all this considered, the solution to the problem is clear: prevention of kidnapping and ransom is key in avoiding any damaging repercussions to executives and their companies. So how can this be achieved? What can your company do? If you are an executive, what meaningful changes can you make to your routine in order to reduce the risk of being kidnapped?

Seven preventative measures you can take today

Here are seven preventative measures that executives can introduce to their travel plans, and activities while travelling abroad, to reduce the risk of K&R:

1. Effective pre-planning

By meticulously planning your journey and mapping out travel routes in advance, you can be in better control of the amount of time you spend in certain environments. This can include:

  • Planning what you intend to do,
  • Planning where to go,
  • Planning your point-to-point travel routes,
  • Being selective about your hotel,
  • Only using licensed travel providers,
  • Having a remote person on stand-by who knows where you will be and can check in with you periodically.

2. Disrupt the route

If you are staying longer than a night in a country that poses a potential kidnapping threat, make sure to switch your route and routine on a daily basis. This can also include changing the hotel that you stay in and visiting different restaurants.

3. Stay off social media

Social media platforms are terrific at connecting us – but, for kidnappers, it can allow them to connect your status updates to a location. This information can allow kidnappers with local knowledge to track your position and movements.

4. Low profile attire

Keep what you carry on your person to a minimum. Ditch the tailored suit, designer watch and smartphone; instead, dress down and try to blend in with the local populace. This can also include your travel arrangements as nothing screams ‘money’ more than being driven in an executive car.

5. Stick to crowded areas

Crowds not only act as a deterrent to potential kidnappers (due to the high number of witnesses), but they also allow you to blend in and lose any unwanted observers watching your activities. If you have to travel to a more rural area, make sure to travel with others – such as security officers.

6. Be aware of your surroundings

Make sure to keep an eye on what goes on around you. When arriving at a destination, make a mental note of the people in your vicinity. If you notice the same person in two separate places, move away from them to a safer location. Use your peripheral vision to establish if you are being watched.

7. Don’t think you are above being kidnapped

A false sense of security and lax behaviour when it comes to your travel arrangements can put you, and even your loved ones, in danger. Kidnappers don’t discriminate when it comes to the executives that they target – meaning that the most seasoned of travellers are just as at risk as those who are not.

These basic strategies can reduce, but not eliminate, a number of risks to executives while travelling abroad. Blackhawk Intelligence can work with you and your company to develop robust plans and strategies to mitigate risk to employees travelling abroad via our security intelligence and threat intelligence packages. If you’d like to know more, contact our security experts today +44 (0)20 8108 9317.

What to do in a kidnapping situation

In the event that you are taken hostage or kidnapped, there are some important steps that you can take to drastically improve your chances of surviving unharmed. As such, it’s important to remember these two over-arching strategies – as they could save your life:

Keep calm

Don’t make any sudden movements, don’t be noisy and don’t be aggressive. Remaining calm and listening to your captor(s) are two of the most important actions you can take. If you are frantically looking around and struggling to focus on what a captor is saying to you, choose one part of their face to concentrate on. If you have been taken as part of a group, try to blend in with everyone else.

Traditionally, the most dangerous and aggressive moment of a K&R situation is the initial event of the kidnapping itself. Your chances of survival will go up the longer you are held hostage. Remaining calm throughout this phase is, therefore, incredibly important.

Offer value

While this can include money or influence, it may also mean offering value in the form of any companionship that you build with a captor. Most of us know of the phenomenon of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and associate it as a negative trait; however, we often forget that it can serve as a vital survival strategy.

After you have been kidnapped, finding common ground with a kidnapper and building a connection with them can give you a survival safety net. However, it’s important to keep conversation civil, terse and as anodyne as possible. That means no politics; no religion; and no money. Don’t lie about yourself either. If you have a publicly accessible social media page – something your captor(s) will likely use as intel – your lies could be exposed by previous posts. You don’t want to annoy or irritate your captor(s).

Always keep in mind that, ultimately, you are more valuable to your captor(s) alive than dead. If a tense situation arises, do not hesitate in reminding them of your value and why you are valued by your employer.

Blackhawk can help your company’s representatives stay safe

At Blackhawk, we work with industry-leading businesses to devise customised strategies relating to all manners of corporate intelligence. From the application of risk management tools to identify any potential barriers, to working with a prospective partner company, or consolidating strategies to improve the overall security of a business – Blackhawk provides comprehensive security, intelligence and threat recognition services.

We believe that many incidents of corporate K&R can be prevented through the implementation of proper risk mitigation strategies. Blackhawk can work with your company to create standardised approaches to the problem – severely reducing the likelihood of a K&R situation that can put the life of you or a fellow employee, and the reputation of your company, at risk.

We are able to provide clients with up-to-date reports on any local incidents or geopolitical events that could affect an employee’s travel through a particular country or region – identifying potential risks and how to best navigate these situations. Our service package can be customised to suit your business’ needs – from weekly forecasts and risk metrics for administrative staff to in-depth daily security reports and briefings for executives.

Blackhawk’s intelligence services will not only ensure that your company is forewarned of any risks to safety, but will ensure that it is forearmed and empowered to respond to any security and intelligence threats. To get in touch, please contact us online or give us a call on +44 (0)20 8108 9317 today.

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