According to industry experts, the combination of the extended lockdown of certain countries, the interruption of normal air traffic, and the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to increase the risk of the kidnapping of corporate personnel for ransom, while simultaneously decreasing the options for responding.
Kidnapping for ransom is nothing new. It can and does occur everywhere. However, observers note that kidnapping is more likely to be committed in regions where crime is rampant, criminals can act with impunity, or where instability, lack of rule of law, pervasive corruption, and absent civil authority exists. However, the risk increases further when combined with high levels of poverty, unemployment, and economic downturns.
Historically, previous health emergencies suggest how kidnap for ransom and other criminal activity can spike during this type of outbreak. During the Ebola crisis in Liberia and Sierra Leone, many companies suspended operations in those countries, leading to an average of a 50 percent increase in unemployment rates as well as a marked increase in criminal activity.
Experts predict a rise in corporate kidnapping in areas with unstable security environments, high levels of criminality, and systemic corruption. These include South America and sub-Saharan Africa. Other areas will see an increase of kidnap for ransom events in areas where militant groups will use the pandemic as a smokescreen for their political agenda, such as in Yemen and Syria. It should be remembered, however, that although most of these threats occur outside of North America, they could also occur in Canada and the United States. “Pandemic exposes organizations to kidnap for ransom risk” www.insurancebusinessmag.com (Apr. 17, 2020).
The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for years to come. Disruptions in supply chains, loss of customers, or significant changes in which the public interacts with your organization may result in a substantial, and possibly permanent, financial disaster. Bankruptcies, mergers, reductions-in-force, acquisitions, or other types of significant and major changes in the life and operation of a corporation may result from the pandemic.
What must be considered, however, is the impact of such business changes upon the employees and communities in which those businesses operate. By far, most of those persons negatively affected will not respond with criminal activity; however, a small but dangerous minority may believe corporate decisions can be influenced through threats of force or violence. This is especially true in countries with no history of the rule of law or of a stable government.
Moreover, the psychological impact of the extended lockdown and adverse economic conditions should not be overlooked. Certain unstable elements of society, already on the margin financially, may see opportunities for profit where others do not.
When your enterprise is facing changes in structure, management, or dissolution, social media may be the first place to check for signs of aggressive or threatening responses. A prudent management company should consider hiring a consultant to scour the internet for threats, calls for strikes, or other signs of aggressive response.
In the case of receipt of actual threats, letters, or signs, consider hiring additional security for those executives most at risk. Installation of security cameras, changes in routine, and the screening of mail and packages are strongly recommended. Evacuation of key personnel should also be considered.