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How big is the risk of kidnap and ransom for worldwide staff?

Kidnap and ransom are not necessarily about the worst-case scenario of being taken hostage. It could be the threat of extortion, being forcibly taken to a cash machine to withdraw money, or virtual kidnap, where perpetrators falsely claim they have taken an international traveller hostage to coerce others into paying a ransom.

Poverty, under-resourced law enforcement, and a resurgence of travel since the pandemic together make for an expected spike in kidnap and ransom cases worldwide, according to expert predictions revealed by Towergate Health & Protection. Employers must be aware of the risks to be able to mitigate against them and provide support to overseas (and UK) employees.

Kidnap and ransom are not necessarily about the worst-case scenario of being taken hostage. It could be the threat of extortion, being forcibly taken to a cash machine to withdraw money, or virtual kidnap, where perpetrators falsely claim they have taken an international traveller hostage to coerce others into paying a ransom.

Sarah Dennis, head of international, Towergate Health & Protection, says: “There are many forms of kidnap and ransom, and it probably happens more often than many employers would think. Companies with overseas employees must make sure their staff are supported.”

Widespread and all-encompassing
There is the risk of exposure to kidnap and ransom in every country, including the UK, but for employees working abroad, it becomes a greater risk. While there is no set age or gender that is more at risk, there are areas of the world where the probability of kidnap and ransom is much higher, including Africa, Asia and South America.

Preparation and prior knowledge
Prior knowledge and planning are both vital in mitigating the risk of kidnap and ransom.

Experts in international travel safety are able to provide reports relating to the risk levels of political situations, crime levels and conflicts within a region. They are also able to give guidance on good and bad transport options for an area. Cultural do’s and don’ts are an important part of local knowledge, which can help to avoid situations escalating. There are now mobile apps with on-the-ground, to-the-minute security information, which update more quickly than the Home Office website. These can have a built-in feature where evacuation is automatically advised if the risks become too high.

“Advice on the best ways to travel and how to stay safe is invaluable,” continued Sarah Dennis.

Legal back-up
Political detention is not uncommon, so kidnap and ransom support can provide legal back-up too. The situation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was detained for six years in Iran on charges of spying, has highlighted this issue.

Providing support
Many employers may not realise that it is possible to provide kidnap and ransom support for their employees via specialists in the field. This can be for employees with overseas placements, those who travel regularly for work, or a one-off trip. The same level of assistance should also be provided to family and friends with them. Kidnap and ransom support can also be relevant to those based in the UK, so it is important that employers look at wider support for the entire workforce.

If the worst does happen and an employee is kidnapped, response consultants – specialist security people – are experts in negotiations; they can be deployed immediately and offer unlimited support. This could be for someone taken by criminals from the street, their office, or hotel, but also for those held abroad by police or other officials. Support is also available to assist employees who are victims of virtual kidnap or extortion.

Then there is the matter of the ransom. Employers need to consider whether they would be able to reimburse any monies paid. This could be anything from a few thousand to many millions of pounds. Loss of funds may also be an issue as it is not uncommon for ransom money to be taken whilst being delivered to kidnappers. It’s important that employers consider having protection in place that can cover them for any losses.

Liam Nalborczyk, account executive, Towergate, added: “The best course of action for employers is to seek expert advice. Knowing the risks helps with mitigating them. Putting support in place can be simple and could prove invaluable.”

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