June 15, 2024

Pay the price

Kidnap and ransom are on the rise, warns Sarah Dennis, Head of International for Towergate Health and Protection, who shares her expert advice on how to protect your travellers

Employers with staff overseas and in the UK should be aware that kidnap and ransom cases are expected to increase. The risks are wider-reaching than many employers might expect, affecting all countries, all regions, at home and abroad, in person and online.

This may sound frightening, but the aim here is not to alarm employers, rather to put them in a position of knowledge and in a place where they can offer assistance.

The definition of kidnap and ransom

Kidnap and ransom is not just about the worst-case scenario of people being taken hostage. The term covers any situation where property is surrendered as a result of threat of harm, this includes threat of extortion, and being forcibly taken to a cash machine to withdraw money. It may be a physical threat or, as is now the case more often, a virtual threat. This can even be virtual to the extent that the situation is a complete fabrication – with perpetrators using social media to convince the family or employer that a person has been taken when they are actually safe and well.

Spike in cases

The risks of kidnap and ransom are expected to rise due to a combination of circumstances. Poverty across the world and the rising cost of living can lead to an increase in crime, this is coupled with under-resourced law enforcement worldwide. There is now also a resurgence of travel as covid restrictions lessen. These factors together mean that kidnap and ransom cases are predicted to spike.

The role of employers

Employers may be the target for the ransom, as they are likely to have greater resources than an individual or their family. There is also the responsibility the employer holds if the employee’s role or posting puts them at greater risk of kidnap and ransom. Either way, the key for employers is to be aware of the risks, as this enables them to mitigate against them and to provide support if required.

Worldwide and UK risks

There is no age or gender that tends to be at greater risk of kidnap and ransom but the possibility of becoming a victim does increase when employees are abroad. While the probability is much higher in Africa, Asia, and South America, the risk of exposure to kidnap and ransom is present in every country, including the UK. Extortion, for example, can happen in and from any country and employers are, therefore, advised to consider offering support to employees both abroad and at home.

Taking expert advice

One of the most important steps an employer can take in mitigating the risk of kidnap and ransom is to take advice from experts. International travel specialists will have access to details of political situations, crime levels, and conflicts in an area. While the UK is still a risk area, most employers and employees will reduce the risks simply by knowing which are higher-risk areas to visit and by being aware of the risks in those area. Once abroad, employees can benefit from increased cultural knowledge and understanding to help keep themselves safe.

Providing support

There are a number of ways to support employees at home and abroad. In the worst-case scenario of physical kidnap, employers with kidnap and ransom support in place can immediately deploy response consultants. These are specialist security experts who are experts in negotiations. This may be to help someone taken from the street, their office, or hotel, or for those held by police or officials. It is vital to ensure that kidnap and ransom support includes legal back-up too.

Home and away

With the issues relevant in all countries, it is wise for employers to extend support to UK-based employees. This may be particularly relevant in the case of virtual kidnap and extortion. It also offers an extra benefit should the employee have an issue while abroad on holiday.

Family cover

It is important that if an employee is posted abroad with family, that everyone travelling is offered the same level of support: it is possible that a kidnap situation could involve a family member, not just the employee themselves.  

Paying the ransom

Ransom sums demanded, and often handed over, could be many thousands, or even millions of pounds. Employers need to consider whether they would be able to reimburse any monies paid, either by themselves, or the family. It is possible to have insurance protection to cover loses due to kidnap and ransom. This includes ‘loss of funds’ in the not uncommon situation where ransom money is taken whilst being delivered to the kidnappers.

Final word

There are many forms of kidnap and ransom, and it happens more often than many people realise. Knowing the risks is the best way to mitigate them and expert advice is the best way to gain an understanding of the dangers and possibilities. Advice to employers is to seek guidance and to put support in place before an issue occurs.