Targeted crime is real in South Africa, says Jared Higgins, CEO of Secure Drive, who notes that there’s been a spate of kidnappings, with victims varying from local and visiting business executives, to children snatched for ransom by diverse perpetrators – ranging from internationally-linked syndicates, to domestic workers.
“While our country has never endured the same infamy as the likes of Mexico at its worst, or parts of Nigeria, experts have warned that it could soon become Africa’s kidnapping hot spot,” Higgins said.
Most kidnappings – particularly those by organised criminals – are carefully planned, he said, targeted abductions that are often only committed after extensive research on a target’s daily habits and routines.
“These criminals will research their targets, making sure that a victim’s family or business is sufficiently resourced to pay ransoms,” he explains. “They then spend time observing and tracking the target, finding the most opportune moment in their daily activities to abduct the individual,” he said.
Kidnapping is a serious crime that carries the risk of at least five years’ imprisonment, although often kidnappers, if caught, are charged with multiple offences including attempt to do grievous bodily harm, attempted murder or even murder, which may carry sentences of up to life in prison.
This means that kidnappers – particularly the syndicates – will only take calculated risks that they expect to be financially worth their while and where the family is less likely to involve the authorities, said Higgins.
Higgins offers some tips to mitigate the risks of becoming targeted by opportunistic or planned kidnappers and criminals alike:
- Be vigilant, notice who is around you and trust your gut instinct – situational awareness is key. If you notice the same person or vehicle in different places over a few days, be cautious and try obtain a detailed description of the vehicle and / or persons.
- Vary your routine. While it’s tempting to drive the same route to work every day, and it’s logical to leave home or the office at the same time – don’t. It makes you an easy target.
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash with you – and don’t talk about large amounts of money in public places either. You might not be talking about your own money, but a kidnapper won’t know that, and you never know who’s listening in on your conversations.
- Avoid displaying company logos, especially if your company is a large multinational that is well known due to its size and value.
- Do proper background checks on your staff, and only use driving services and other suppliers who conduct proper background checks on their staff.
- While it’s rewarding to enjoy the fruits of your labours by wearing expensive clothes and driving luxury cars, be aware that these highlight your wealth, which may make you a more attractive target.
- Let people know where you’re going, what time you expect to reach your destination and share your itinerary with your family and colleagues at work. That way, if something does happen to you, those close to you can act more quickly to find you.
- Be wary of what you share on social media. ‘Check-ins’, posting airline boarding cards or hotel information not only lets strangers know where you are, they may help in establishing behavioural patterns.
“Many of us get a fright when we read about all the measures we should be taking to protect ourselves, and how we need to implement them in our daily lives.
“But, as time goes by, without incident, we feel safer because we’ve been doing the right thing for so long, but then our situational awareness decreases – and it’s then that we become vulnerable again, to kidnapping or any other crime,” Higgins warned.