By: Kathleen Defever
In sheer numbers, the amount of kidnappings in one year are not significant – a mere 6,000 people out of the world’s 7 billion population. Therefore, the concept of kidnap insurance may seem a bit outlandish. However, you may be surprised to discover that YOU are the very person who has the highest risk of being kidnapped, and therefore you may want to heavily consider purchasing kidnap insurance before your next trip.
Who is buying kidnap insurance right now? Eighty percent of Fortune 500 companies regularly purchase kidnapping coverage for their traveling executives. Why would they put out such an expense? Because in some countries, kidnapping is very big business.
Are You at Risk?
What do You Look Like?
First, consider who you are. If you rank amongst the wealthy elite of the planet, you may be at risk. Basically, ask yourself if you look like a wealthy target. Whether you consider yourself wealthy or not, what really matters is whether a kidnapper THINKS you look like a wealthy target. Kidnappers want to kidnap someone who dresses well, wears expensive jewelry, travels in luxury, etc. Before you rule yourself out of the category, remember that from a kidnapper’s perspective, even a middle class Westerner traveling on the cheap will appear wealthy. Most “kidnap states” are third world countries, where people may only be making $1.25 per day. The scruffiest of Western backpackers are still wealthy, in comparison.
Where are You Going?
Second, ask yourself which countries you are spending time in. Some countries have a very low or non-existent kidnap rate, but others, like Nigeria are plagued by potential kidnappers (in the case of Nigeria, Islamic extremists and pirates). To see if you are traveling to a country where you may be kidnapped, check the following two sources:
1. The United States Department of State website – the Department of State continuously posts travel warnings, and you can follow them on Twitter to make certain you get up to the minute news (Twitter name: @TravelGov). There are currently thirty-four countries under a travel warning due to “protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable”.
2. The AKE Intelligence Kidnap Brief – AKE Group compiles kidnapping statistics annually, and releases a very clear and useful map to show you which countries are a risk and why. AKE’s 2012 Kidnap Brief lists the following countries/areas as the biggest risks:
- Somali Waters
- Gulf of Guinea Waters
- Sahel Region
- Sudan/South Sudan
The Kidnap Brief is also a particularly good resource because it shows the average ransom demands for each country and breaks down how many people are currently in captivity – all in very clear and attractive charts.
Which Countries Stand Out as Risky
Most of the countries under a warning are probably not countries you would choose for your next vacation. However, you may be surprised to find that a visit to sunny, friendly Mexico puts you at risk of being kidnapped. In fact, Mexico has recently been called “the kidnap capital of the world”. I personally know someone who recounts an absolutely harrowing tale of nearly being kidnapped in Mexico City. The Council for Law and Human Rights estimates that there are seventy-two kidnappings per day in Mexico, mostly due to the Mexican drug war. This figure is contested, but with a number that high, would you like to take the risk? Of course, you can simply avoid Mexico altogether, or try to reduce your risk by visiting only areas not heavily affected by the drug cartels, but if you do visit Mexico you are under risk and you should definitely consider kidnap insurance. Another traditional vacation spot with high risk is Egypt. If you are planning your dream tour of the ancient pyramids, you may want to consider purchasing some coverage before you board that plane.
Other countries historically considered a kidnapping risk are Syria (warring parties), the Philippines (criminal gangs), and Colombia (FARC guerrillas). I can personally attest that the vast majority of the Philippines is beautiful, friendly, and safe from kidnapping, but there is a very dangerous portion – the remote island of Mindanao. Make sure you read up on the Philippines before you charter your course there. Finally, statistics indicate that a quarter of all kidnappings are occuring in Latin America, but the rate is rising fast in the Middle East and Africa (Particularly of note: al-Qaeda alone has made $90 million in the last decade from kidnapping Westerners – not bad business, right?).
Will Your Home Country Pay Your Ransom?
For many people, kidnap insurance is probably not necessary because their country will pay their ransom. However, if you live in Algeria, the United States, Australia, or Britain, you are out of luck. These countries will not negotiate or pay ransoms. Italy may negotiate a ransom for you, but if you try it yourself, you have committed a punishable offense. In Australia, paying a ransom will land you in jail. So, check what the policy is in your home country before you purchase kidnap insurance.