Comprehensive insurance ‘is a necessity as kidnappings skyrocket’

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Kidnap for ransom and “express” kidnapping have increased exponentially in Africa, with a 30% year-on-year increase over the past decade in South Africa, and insurance coverage tailored to this growing threat has become necessary, says Richard Hood, the chief executive of OLEA South Africa.

Hood says the exponential increase is associated with the rising levels of violent crime in the country.

Kidnappers are no longer targeting only high-net worth individuals. The level of risk is determined by an individual’s location, community or nationality, vulnerability, and type of employment or business, he says.

“Everyone is a potential target. Kidnappers change the ransom demands according to what they think the victim, or their families, can afford,” Hood says.

Kidnapping cases reported to the police have surged by 260% over the past decade, according to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). The South African Police Service’s crime statistics for the third quarter of 2023 (October to December 2023) indicate an 11% year-on-year increase in kidnappings, totalling 4 577 cases over the period, which translates to about 51 kidnappings daily in South Africa, as reported by BusinessTech.

The newly coined concept of “express” kidnapping involves criminals kidnapping people and forcing them to withdraw the maximum amount allowed from ATMs or open their banking apps make electronic fund transfers. Hood says the kidnapping often ends when the victim can no longer withdraw money, but not always.

The epicentre of the kidnapping crisis is Gauteng. More than half of the total cases so far have been reported from the province (7 818 annually). However, according to Hood, gangs are expanding to other parts of the country in search of new targets.

ISS reported in 2023 that the main reasons for kidnappings are ransom, human trafficking, and extortion.

Hood adds that most cases of kidnapping in South Africa are a side-effect of carjacking, robbery, and rape, but crime experts say an increasing number of victims are now being singled out directly.

“The financial and psychological implications of a kidnapping can be staggering,” he says.

According to OLEA, the impact of kidnap for ransom includes:

  • Ransom demands can run into millions of dollars, and associated costs such as negotiation fees, legal expenses, and medical care for victims can escalate rapidly.
  • Kidnapping is a traumatic experience not only for the victim but also for their families and loved ones. The emotional and psychological impact can be long-lasting and may require extensive therapy and support.
  • Dealing with a kidnapping incident involves navigating complex legal and regulatory frameworks, both domestically and internationally. Having access to legal expertise and resources can be invaluable in such situations.

Although there is no way to protect yourself completely against kidnapping, there are ways to mitigate the consequences. Hood says cover available provides additional protection for a range of expenses associated with a kidnapping incident.

Most policies provide assistance services, to manage the incident to secure the best possible outcome.

“Beyond financial protection, such insurance provides access to expert assistance and resources essential for managing and resolving kidnapping incidents effectively,” Hood says.

Comprehensive insurance provides cover for a range of expenses associated with a kidnapping incident, including ransom payments, negotiation costs, medical care, and crisis management services.

In addition to financial protection, many insurance providers offer risk assessment and mitigation services to help individuals and businesses identify and minimise the likelihood of kidnapping incidents.

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