Kidnap-for-ransom criminals adjust tactics to the post pandemic environment

Kidnap-for-ransom (K&R) criminals have changed their tactics to adjust to the post-Covid environment and they are attracting new recruits due to the disruption in the labour market.

While the pandemic initially caused the K&R activity to plunge globally, the number of incidents rebounded quickly in 2020, according to Control Risks, a consultancy firm.   

Global kidnap-for-ransom chart 2019-2020

Source: Control Risks

Since international travel continued to decline, criminals moved their target towards local nationals and deployed new strategies. Already in 2020, several countries including Nigeria, Haiti, and India showed much higher kidnap-for-ransom activity than in the previous year, according to Control Risks.

Gangs have also adapted their strategies to the new environment for example through virtual kidnaps, where victims are tricked into believing a kidnap has occurred and pay a quick ransom. This has helped maintain a cash flow to fund further illicit operations.

A changed risk environment

Criminal and militant groups have been exploiting the pandemic to advance their agendas in the medium and longer terms. Opportunities arose as Covid-19 impacted political and economic structures in developing countries where kidnap for ransom is a major threat― state budgets have been depleted through additional expenses and lower tax revenues. This has resulted in weakened institutions, lack of rule of law and increased poverty, creating the perfect mix for criminal activity.

Terrorist groups such as ISIS in Syria and al Shabaab in Somalia have regularly taken advantage of disorder in the past to attract supporters.

The threat of K&R is therefore likely to increase in some regions when travel rules are relaxed, particularly in those where the pandemic has erased the income of large parts of society. Impoverished individuals will naturally look for alternative sources of income to feed their families. Kidnap for ransom and maritime hostage taking may seem like a quick solution for some. 

The Covid-19 impact: 

  • Kidnapping is likely to become more prevalent due to disruption in the labour market

  • Economic pressure may push law-abiding citizens towards crime 

  • Return to greater mobility is likely to boost the risk of kidnappings, both in form of express kidnaps and virtual kidnaps.  

  • Extortion could start to affect international businesses

  • Inexperienced kidnappers pose greater risks to victims

  • Disruption in the economy drives criminals towards new targets

As countries open up their economies following the vaccine rollout, K&R activity is likely to increase. Because the risk landscape for K&R has changed, companies should also review their staff policies to make sure their employees remain protected. 


  • Keep a low profile: This should be standard procedure since expensive cars or jewellery attract unwanted attention in high-risk areas. 

  • Consider your digital profile: Criminals are starting to scour social media for victims. Avoid posting images that make you look like an attractive target or mentions your travel plans. Be cautious about any unsolicited approaches received online.

  • Change your routine: Arriving early, leaving late or choosing a different means of transportation makes you a more difficult target.

  • Stay alert: Be aware of your surroundings when on the move and avoid distractions such as phone calls. Keep someone trusted informed about your plans and try to travel accompanied. 

  • Do not play the hero: When confronted by armed criminals surrender and co-operate. Resistance is likely to make matters worse. 

Insurance solutions remain available to mitigate against these increased risks. K&R policies provide not just the reimbursement of ransom payment, additional expenses incurred and legal liability cover but also the direct and immediate access to expert hostage negotiators.

These experts hold the hand of policyholders and manage the crisis from start to finish with their costs always unlimited under our policies.

For further information, please contact:  Jack Matthews – Special Contingency (K&R) Broker, Accident, Health, Sports & Contingency

T: +44 (0)20 7933 2942

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