Kidnap and Ransom

Kidnappings are on the increase: here’s what you need to know

In this article, Catia Folgore, Kidnap and Ransom product champion at iTOO, chats to a consultant that has private sector experience supporting commercial, government and military clients, Allum specialises in security intelligence and liaison, and has knowledge of protective security and operationalists. 

Kidnapping for ransom and extortion is fast becoming a lucrative business in South Africa, as the current tough economic conditions make people increasingly desperate to make a quick buck. The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC) report found that the number of kidnappings has grown alarmingly over the past year, with an average of 1 143 kidnappings per month reported during the first half of 2022 compared with 700 cases per month in 2021. 

As the number of kidnappings increases, operations have also become increasingly sophisticated and organised. The level of skill and coordination among these criminal groups has noticeably enhanced their operations, including having spotters, abductors, communicators and negotiators. Their ability to conduct surveillance on potential targets for an extended period, sometimes up to six months, also showcases a high degree of planning and patience. However, there are still some kidnappings that are opportunistic and highlight the unpredictability of these crimes.

The increase in both premeditated and opportunistic kidnappings across a broad spectrum of people – from ordinary citizens to business leaders to high net-worth individuals – is a distressing trend. It’s alarming to see that even relatively small ransoms of around R500 000 or less have been demanded, as long as there are family members or friends who can raise the money for the victim’s release. The highest kidnapping ransoms in South Africa have reached staggering amounts of between R72 000 000 to R150 000 000, primarily in major cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Polokwane.

It’s crucial for individuals and businesses to be aware of these kidnapping risks and take appropriate security measures to protect themselves and families in such situations. So what should you know? 

Premeditated kidnappings

Premeditated kidnappings involve a meticulously planned and sophisticated approach by criminal gangs. These criminals invest significant time and effort into studying their target, including the target’s pattern and family. This is completed through surveillance and allows them to gather the necessary information to carry out the crime successfully. Once the victim is unlawfully taken, they’re often held in a concealed location.

The negotiation phase can extend for up to six days and is a critical part of these premeditated kidnappings, as it determines how much ransom the criminal group can receive from the incident. During this period, the kidnappers establish contact with the victim’s family to initiate ransom negotiations.

Opportunistic kidnappings

Opportunistic kidnappings are more spontaneous and less sophisticated and typically involve criminal groups that operate with lower levels of planning and organisation. These groups often hang around in areas and seize an opportunity when it arises. Opportunistic kidnappings can take various forms, such as hijackings or snatching individuals, where the primary goal is either to secure a quick ransom or steal material possessions for later resale. 

These kinds of kidnappings are considered low risk and low reward compared to more elaborate kidnapping operations. Due to the lack of background information about the victims, they’re usually completed more swiftly, which can make them more unpredictable and potentially more dangerous. It’s important for individuals to remain vigilant and take precautions to reduce their vulnerability to such opportunistic crimes.

Kidnapping across Africa

Kidnapping styles and treatment of victims differs across various African countries. In South Africa, kidnappers often resort to violence to gain possession of victims, their valuables, and to extort ransoms. Unfortunately, this results in victims suffering physical and mental harm that often requires medical and psychological support.

In contrast, other African countries like Mozambique and Nigeria seem to have a different approach, where kidnappings are conducted with less violence. Victims may be restrained, typically with their wrists and feet bound, but they’re often released unharmed once the ransom is received. In these cases, victims are typically provided with basic necessities like food and water during their captivity.

Combatting kidnapping: a multi-faceted approach

The South African Police Service has made efforts to combat crimes including kidnapping, with an increase in checkpoints to target illegal weapons and stolen vehicles. It’s a complex situation due to the level of corruption within the police force, where some officers may be involved with criminal elements thus hindering initiatives put in place. The element of corruption not only undermines law enforcement efforts but also erodes public trust.

Combatting kidnapping requires a multi-faceted approach that includes not only law enforcement efforts but also addresses the root causes of crime, such as socio-economic disparities and educational opportunities. It’s crucial for both the government and civil society to work together to create a safer and more secure environment for all South Africans.

Globally, organisations exist that assist victims of kidnappings, extortion and other crimes. These organisations provide specialised services related to coercive crimes including kidnappings, threats to life, wrongful detentions and the search for missing persons. The organisation’s focus on both pre-incident and post-incident advisory services is crucial, as prevention and crisis resolution are equally important in the field of coercive crimes. 

Such organisations play a vital role in providing expertise, guidance and support to individuals and businesses facing these challenging circumstances, contributing to improved safety and security in an increasingly complex world.

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