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    Nat Quinn
    Kidnapping for ransom and extortion is fast becoming a lucrative business in South Africa, says specialist insurer, iTOO, noting that kidnappers are increasingly targeting mid- to lower-income individuals in their crimes.
    Citing statistics released in a 2022 report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC), iTOO said that the number of kidnappings in South Africa has grown alarmingly over the past year, with an average of 1 143 kidnappings per month reported during the first half of 2022.
    This is almost double the monthly average of 700 cases reported in 2021, it said.
    “Latest trends also suggest that wealthy individuals themselves are no longer the sole targets of organised kidnapping syndicates, but that the threat now increasingly extends to family members, friends and associates,” the group said.
    “Previously, companies would mainly insure their executives against kidnapping and extortion when they travelled to high-risk areas. Now the threat extends to entire families who are at risk of being potential kidnapping victims.”
    iToo noted that as kidnappings have become more prevalent over the years, the criminals behind the cases have also become more organised.
    The insurer said that the crime has become a lucrative enterprise, and is seen as an easy way to get money.
    However, due to the tough economic times in the country, criminals have now widened their net and kidnapping for a ransom no longer targets just the rich and the famous.
    “These days, syndicates are known to snatch anyone with the means or the support network to raise a ransom amount,” it said.
    “As a result, we have seen ordinary people being kidnapped for ransoms as small as R500,000 or less, as long as they have family or friends who can raise the money for their release. The kidnapping syndicates are definitely expanding their market, and people should be aware of this,” the group said.
    According to the GI-TOC report, many of the locations where kidnappings took place in South Africa last year were not in the wealthy suburbs of Johannesburg and Pretoria, but rather in low-income areas.
    The research suggests that many cases involve average earners with no visible source of disposable money, forcing these victims to scrape together a smaller ransom amount, iTOO said, adding that these crimes are often not even reported.
    “Syndicates have come to realise that lower-income earners make for easy targets and do not draw media attention. On the other hand, higher earners also have better means at their disposal to increase their personal safety. It is not surprising then that kidnapping is becoming more prevalent in less affluent communities,” the group said.
    Kidnapping syndicates are often well organised and spend time studying and tracking their victims, knowing what their family is able to pay.
    “It is, therefore, important that people remain vigilant and vary their routines and travel routes so as not to give syndicates a chance to plan and execute a well-rehearsed kidnapping,” it said.
    Kidnapping statistics
    The latest statistics from the South African Police Service (SAPS) covering July to September 2022 show that kidnappings in the country more than doubled over the period.
    Police stations recorded 4,028 kidnappings over the period, up from around 2,000 cases at the same time in 2021.
    Most kidnapping cases in South Africa are not directly tied to people specifically being taken to be held for random. According to the SAPS, the most kidnappings are opportunistic, tied to cases of hijacking where criminals try to get the most out of their victim by forcing them to withdraw cash or give over more items in return for their safety.
    Of a sample of 3,648 kidnapping cases, only a minority (77, or 2%) were direct kidnappings with ransom demands.

    Worrying new crime trend in South Africa (businesstech.co.za)

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