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In many parts of the world, expatriates are attractive targets to kidnappers. It is often difficult for expatriates and travelers to blend in with the locals, and any sign that a person is a foreigner or from a first-world country, increases their exposure. Kidnapping usually serves the purpose of yielding a monetary gain or wide media exposure. Criminals often target high profile organizations, first-world professionals and their families, since they believe they will be able to obtain a higher ransom. Other kidnappers are not requesting a ransom, but instead seek to draw media attention to their particular religious or political belief through a high profile kidnapping.
Events can occur anywhere, but there are many "hotspots" where it is important to remain vigilant while traveling. While Mexico continues to top the list, other Latin American countries such as Haiti, Venezuela and Brazil have also seen increases. India has also experienced a significant rise in kidnapping events and is the most recent country to be added to the hotspot list. Kevin Henry, Assistant Vice President of AIG WorldSource Crisis Management, says the Indian government has reported at least 700 kidnap for ransom gangs are active in India. "Currently, most victims in India are Indian businesspeople and children," he notes, "but there is a concern over the growing threat to expatriates and temporary travelers."
These facts may startle you, but it does not mean you have to spend your entire assignment overseas fearing that you will be taken hostage. Just like when you were warding off the boogie man, you can take simple precautions to prevent an incident.
Often when we travel, our ultimate goal is to get from point A to point B as quickly and easily as possible, and we are so focused, we forget to take a look around. The perfect example is visiting the automatic teller machine. In these situations, you are handling money with your back turned to the street, so it would be very easy for a kidnapper to come up to you without your knowledge. Ray Leki, author of "Travel Wise: How to Be Safe, Savvy, and Secure Abroad, says a new form of "express kidnapping" has surfaced. "The person taken hostage will be ransomed by providing his ATM card and personal identifications number to the kidnappers, who will drive around to various machines and drain as many resources as the limits of the card will allow from the victim's accounts before releasing, or harming, the victim."
For this reason, only use ATM's in well-lit areas, and frequently survey your surroundings as you complete the transaction and in the moments after you have left the ATM. When possible, have other individuals with you. As the old adage says, there is strength in numbers.
Not all kidnappings are spur-of-the-moment. Occasionally, kidnappers may be watching you for days before the event occurs, in order to form a fail-safe plan. Change your route and routine frequently. "Traditional kidnappers look for predictability; they need to know where the victim is going to be at a specific time," explains Kevin Henry, "If the victim has a varied scheduled or shows some unpredictability, they are usually scratched off the list." So, vary your route to work and leave the house at different times. If you are being watched, the assailants may relent since they would not be able to plan the kidnapping.
Avoid wearing items perceived that would make you appear wealthy, such as flashy jewellery. The more money you appear to be worth, the more of a target you will be because captors will assume they can seek a higher ransom. This tip goes for transportation too. While you may feel safer driving an SUV, this can also be seen as a sign of wealth, particularly in countries where large vehicles are not prevalent. If SUV's are your car of choice, you may consider taking a defensive driving course. These classes cover everything from handling ordinary traffic hazards to getting out of a high speed chase alive. Schools are located worldwide, and can be found by a simple internet search.
If you feared every possible threat you could face, you would never be able to leave the house. The idea of being taken captive is horrifying, but taking proper precautions can be your best defence against a kidnapping, and most of the time, only require you to execute common sense -- unless you usually choose to visit ATM's in dark alleys..