If you travel outside of the country on business or ask others to do so for your company, you should be aware of a growing problem. It’s a problem that goes unreported the majority of the time: kidnapping for ransom.
It has become such a threat that the U.S. Department of State added a new risk indicator—“K” for “kidnapping”—to its Travel Advisories earlier this year. Advisories for 35 countries were updated to include the new indicator: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Russian Federation, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine (in Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine), Venezuela and Yemen.
Of course, Westerners are targets for kidnapping around the globe, not just in these 35 countries. If you or an employee must travel beyond U.S. borders for work, especially to countries known to be plagued by civil unrest, crime, terrorism or war, prepare strategies for avoiding and surviving a kidnapping scenario.
Avoidance: Prepare and Be Aware
Avoidance starts with acknowledging that kidnapping is a real possibility. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t wealthy. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve visited the country before without incident. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can be a target.
Kidnap prevention and survival training are available from numerous sources online and in person. Employers asking their workers to travel overseas on business may want to provide formal safety education as part of their “duty of care.”
Additionally, here are some tips for consideration:
- Educate yourself about your travel destination and the associated risks. The U.S. Department of State is a reputable resource for this information.
- Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. You’ll receive updates from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and enable them to contact you in an emergency.
- Travel with others, if possible, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. If you must work in a rural area, consider hiring a security detail.
- Carry business cards that have only your basic contact information, not your company name or title.
- Avoid luxury hotels, restaurants and transportation, but vet your hotel carefully and use only licensed transportation providers.
- Blend in. Dress to fit in with the locals. Leave flashy clothes and footwear, sports team apparel, expensive jewelry and fancy electronics at home. Don’t advertise your nationality.
- Don’t publicize your travel plans on social media. Avoid making it easy for would-be kidnappers to track your position.
- Vary your daily routine if you are in a country for more than a night. Avoid taking the same routes, eating at the same restaurants, working out at the same time, and even staying at the same hotel.
- Don’t make or take calls in public where you can be overheard. Also, be aware that your calls—and computer usage—are possibly being monitored.
- Be aware that in some countries, corrupt local authorities may actually be working with kidnappers.
In the end, it comes down to this: Become educated. Take precautions. Remain aware. Make yourself as difficult a target as possible.
Survival: Kidnap and Ransom Insurance
In addition to learning ahead of time what to do and not to do if you are taken captive, securing kidnap and ransom (K&R) insurance can dramatically improve your or your employee’s chances of surviving the ordeal.
Unlike most travel insurance policies, K&R policies typically offer:
- Payment for trained experts to negotiate with kidnappers for the safe return of the captive (the U.S. government often will not negotiate on behalf of citizens)
- High-dollar amounts—although there are limits—for ransom payment and to cover other demands (the U.S. government’s policy as of this posting is that it will not pay ransom)
- Coverage for trained experts to deliver payment to the kidnappers
- Funds for evacuating the hostage from remote or dangerous areas
- Monies for reward payments, legal advice, public relations and more
As with most types of insurance, K&R policies come with restrictions. For example, a kidnap and ransom policy won’t cover the insured if the person travels to a country currently sanctioned by the U.S. government, such as North Korea, Venezuela or Cuba. Another, somewhat unique, example, is that the policyholder cannot tell anyone that the policy exists; if it becomes known, the policy will be nullified. For this reason, sometimes employees aren’t told about this coverage.
The cost of K&R policies varies. Considerations include the number of people to be covered, countries they will be traveling to and the length of their stay, the specific coverage types and amounts desired, and so on. Business executives, universities with study-abroad programs, missionaries and non-governmental organizations, and high-profile/high-net-worth travelers in particular should weigh the risk and costs and determine consider whether this type of policy is warranted.
A Final Word About Kidnap and Ransom
Just because you don’t often hear about it doesn’t mean that kidnapping doesn’t happen. As with any business risk, the threat must be weighed, measured, mitigated as much as possible and managed responsibly.
If K&R coverage isn’t part of your existing corporate or institutional insurance program, or if you would like to review your current policy, your local Hylant risk management expert is available to help.
The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your insurance broker or trusted adviser for insurance-related questions.