Criminals are always on the lookout for how they can use modern technology to make crime easier and more efficient. Their latest tool is one that we all know and use on a daily basis: the Google search engine. But instead of looking up random facts and links to websites, the criminals use the search engine to research potential kidnapping victims, and if valuable enough, hold them as hostages until a ransom is paid.
This kidnapping research technique is becoming popular with Mexican crime gangs as they randomly target potential victims and do a quick background check on them to see if they are worth the hassle of kidnapping. If found valuable, the gangs quickly figure out a way to intercept the person before they get to their destination and then issue a single ransom request. And if not responded to in time, the gangs simply kill their hostages and move on to the next victim.
An example of this is provided to us by Michael Guidry, founder and CEO of The Guidry Group, which provides security for 22 billionaires. He said that a few weeks ago a high-ranking executive of a large corporation got off a plane, and was supposed to be picked up by a driver and dropped off at his hotel. The driver was using a placard with the executive’s name and company to signal him, however, before the town car got to the executive, members of a criminal gang saw the placard and, using mobile devices, quickly researched who this passenger/potential victim was.
Once they found out that this was a valuable target, they quickly pulled over the town car and bribed the driver, asking him to say that they never saw the executive. At that point they would pick up the executive themselves and hold him as a hostage:
“It was completely random,” Guidry says. “They went to the driver, gave him $500 in U.S. cash, and told him to go back and say he couldn’t find the executive. Within 36 hours after they had kidnapped him, they had issued one ransom demand, and then they killed him.”
Seeing as the hostage wasn’t a client of the firm that the kidnappers contacted, but simply an acquaintance of a client, the firm refused to pay on the spot. The firm most likely contacted the police to conduct their own investigation, but at that point it was too late and the victim had already been killed.
This is an extreme example of how the Internet and search engines can erode privacy to the point of where a person’s name or company can tell strangers almost everything about them. Especially with the use of social networking websites like Facebook and LinkedIn, a person’s entire history and lifestyle can quickly and effortlessly be found by anyone with the interest and access to the Internet:
“[Social networks] give access to all your information and pictures that you would have once held private,” Guidry says. “So now they [criminals] know all of your deepest, darkest secrets.”
Guidry also says that this trend of randomly researched kidnappings are on the rise as more criminals have the ability and access to this type of knowledge from mobile devices.
Once again, this is another reason to be extremely careful what you share online, especially pieces of information that can be found with a simple Google search.