Tips & Resources

Avoid the Drama of a Kidnap and Ransom

By James Daw, Contributing Writer

The kidnap and ransom business is not just a movie theme. Criminal gangs, terrorists, and amateurs have tried it. In some countries, even police officers stand accused. So reduce your risk of becoming a target or—if captured—the horror of captivity.

Avoiding a kidnapping

  1. Watch for travel advisories: You could put yourself at extreme risk, and void both your life insurance and travel medical coverage if you ignore your home country's advice to “avoid all travel.” Canada’s current list includes Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Chad, Iran, Niger, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
  2. Be suspicious: Be alert to the potential you are being followed, hoodwinked, or drawn into a trap. Look around when entering or leaving your home, office, car, or hotel. Question motives if a stranger approaches you.
  3. Stay in touch: Inform your immediate family, confidants, and local contacts of your location, travel routes, and ways to stay in touch, but not the whole world on Facebook. Carry a smart phone—or rent a satellite phone for some locations—and use the settings for privacy and location services with discretion.
  4. Blend in: Your choice of clothing, wrist watch, and hotel will advertise your standing in life and your visitor status, and may show a disregard for local sensitivities. So don’t put a target on your back, or show up looking like you do on your company’s website. Alan Bell, President of Globe Risk International, says there are places he would not go without a four-day beard, t-shirt, jeans, cap, runners, and a backpack to carry his computer.
  5. Avoid routines: Whether at home or abroad, alter your travel, dining, and recreational choices to limit the chances of being stalked, whether in remote or extremely crowded locations. Bell says some kidnappers in Mexico City are so brazen that they will march a captive through stalled traffic to their getaway car.
  6. Avoid being alone: Driving, taking a taxi or public transit, or walking the streets will all be safer if you have company, preferably someone local and trustworthy. A local driver/tour guide with good references and skills in defensive driving could also spare you from traffic dangers or having to ask for directions.
  7. Stay in the open: Never agree to meet a stranger in an out-of-the-way place. Propose a public spot, ideally one with its own security personnel, such as a bank, office tower, or hotel lobby. Carry a whistle in your pocket or be prepared to yell a warning. Your first contact with a kidnapper may be your only opportunity to escape.

Surviving a kidnapping

  1. Resist resisting: Once you are captured and muscled into a kidnapper’s vehicle, remember that you are only valuable alive. So remain polite and co-operative. It’s better than provoking them and being punched unconscious.
  2. Cower from weapons: Bell says adopt a “gray man persona.” Turn your head at the sight of a gun or knife. “You say: I’m afraid of guns. Please don’t point at me. They will all laugh at you…and at the end of the day they will relax. The man who thinks he’s a tough guy is the one who gets tied up every night, hand and foot, because captors are worried he is going to escape.”
  3. Establish a rapport: Speak politely. Ask if your captors could bring you water, food, or items to improve your comfort and relieve boredom. Attempt to strike up a conversation, depending on the mood of the situation. Gradually, you may win the trust of your captors, and avoid undue hardship during your captivity.
  4. Be patient: It will take time for your captors to make contact with your family or business associates, and for them, in turn, to hire a negotiator, contact your country’s nearest embassy, confirm you are alive, negotiate the ransom, and arrange for your safe release.
  5. Stay active: Exercise will help you maintain your mental and physical health. The five basic exercises (requires Adobe Reader) Canadian athlete and scientist Bill Orban developed for Royal Canadian Air Force pilots in the late 1950s can all be done in a confined space.
  6. Be smart about escape: “If you intend to escape, do it early in your captivity,” says Bell. “You will be well fed and stronger. The longer you wait, the weaker you will become and you could be moved further away from your initial abduction point.” Your life will likely be in danger if you are held captive, but are not up for ransom. Do not attempt a confrontation unless you are alone with a single captor and are physically capable.
  7. Stay aware: Your safety and survival should be your first concern. But if you remain alert to sounds, stops, turns, road surfaces, and the passage of time, you may be able to help the police find the kidnappers once you are safely home.

In a later story, we will explore how Bell became a ransom negotiator and security consultant, just how frequently kidnappings occur, and how much it costs businesses and prominent individuals to buy kidnap & ransom insurance.