Held Hostage for Cash

How global terrorism is redefining the need for kidnap and ransom insurance

Kidnapping, ransom, and the silver screen. Thankfully, most of what we know about kidnapping, hostage negotiation, and extortion comes from Hollywood. Usually, an A-list actor outwits the bad guys with vigilante heroics that involve car chases and split-second rescues, all set to dramatic music.

In reality, kidnappings, extortion, and cyber terrorism are becoming all too frequent. How an organization should respond is much more nuanced than in the movies. Consider these scenarios:

  • A professor on a scientific study trip in Mexico is abducted. Kidnappers force him to pay an immediate ransom, and drive him to several ATMs.

  • A hacker infects your school’s computers with ransomware, holding your records and sensitive data hostage until you pay up. Refuse, and your files will be destroyed or publicly released. 

  • An estranged spouse illegally picks up her child from school, and then disappears. Authorities determine the child is in danger, and issue an Amber Alert.

Now ask yourself: what would be your organization’s first move?

Global terrorism: Financing extremist groups. Kidnappings, extortion, and threats of violence aren’t just problems overseas or issues facing the wealthy—they are global issues. Civil unrest, geo-political clashes, and extreme poverty can give rise to terrorism. Humanitarian workers in cities near the American-Mexican border can be as much at risk as workers in Nigeria. A mission team rebuilding a church in the U.S. can be victims of extortion just as easily as a pastor rebuilding lives in Myanmar.

Terrorist organizations need funding, and kidnapping for ransom and extortion are the chief financing tools used to secure a quick inflow of cash. Sometimes called express kidnapping, a criminal’s demands may be for a smaller amount—generally, the maximum amount a victim can withdraw through a series of ATM transactions. In the case of a virtual kidnapping, a criminal contacts a family member and falsely claims to hold a loved one hostage. Similar to express kidnappings, the demand is for a dollar amount that can be paid quickly.

Your digital information, held hostage. Targets aren’t limited to people; criminals use extortion to ransom digital and intellectual property for cash. Domestic cyberattacks are on the rise, and often can be attributed to militant and terrorist groups around the world. 

Criminals looking to make some fast cash can infect your ministry’s computers with ransomware, a computer bug that essentially holds your information hostage. The threat is straightforward: pay the ransom, or the hacker will release your private emails to the media, erase your drives, or use donor information for additional illicit purposes. 

Redefining kidnap and ransom insurance for the 21st century. When faced with an unthinkable situation, it’s easy to quickly become overwhelmed. Regardless of your ministry’s stance on payment of ransoms, today’s kidnap and ransom coverage can provide additional important services.  When considering kidnap and ransom insurance, ask if the policy includes:

  • 24/7 access to an experienced, multi-lingual crisis management team. The team’s backgrounds should include police and military special forces.

  • Reimbursement for ransom payments.

  • Reimbursement for experts who act as liaison with authorities, the media, and families. 

  • Recovery care for the victim, including travel costs for the family.

  • Disappearance investigation support.

  • Coverage for injury or death caused by a kidnapping, hijack, or detention.

  • Domestic as well as international coverage.

Kidnapping and cyberterrorism are domestic and global issues, and no organization is immune. It’s worth a conversation with your leadership to ask where your school or ministry could be vulnerable, and what steps are needed to develop a response plan. If you have questions, talk to a Brotherhood Mutual agent.

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