Argentina Still Struggling with Virtual, Real Kidnappings

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New data from Argentina indicates virtual and real kidnappings continue to be a security concern in Buenos Aires, although government efforts to tackle these issues may be helping to rein these crimes in.

Official data shows that police in Buenos Aires received reports of 196 virtual kidnappings during the first four months of 2016, according to Clarin. That is more than one virtual kidnapping per day between January and April. The scam abductions were reported most often in the neighborhoods of Recoleta, Palermo and Belgrano, with 28, 22 and 17 cases, respectively.

Virtual or “fake” kidnapping is an extortion scheme which consists in making a victim believe that one of their relatives is being held under threat. Unlike express kidnappings and kidnap for ransom, the act of abduction itself never occurs in a virtual kidnapping.

The scheme is carried out by contacting the targeted victim — often an elderly person — from a phone booth or an untraceable cell phone. Calling in the early morning hours and playing a fake recording of a person crying are some of the techniques used to evoke an emotional response in the victim and mentally coerce them into paying a ransom.

Minister of National Security Patricia Bullrich said the new data also shows a simultaneous decrease of registered kidnap for ransom in the Buenos Aires Province, reported Clarin. These fell from 137 cases during the first five months of 2015 to 115 over the same period this year. Speaking to Congress, the minister admitted that the government is concerned about this persistent security issue, and that it will continue fighting it via anti-kidnapping brigades and other measures, Clarin reported.

InSight Crime Analysis

The number of reported virtual kidnappings is lower than the record-breaking totals registered in 2014, which saw 234 cases in the month of February alone. That spike prompted the authorities to create a special unit of prosecutors to deal with the problem (Comisión de Secuestros Virtuales de la Procuración). The unit’s efforts over the past two years may have been instrumental in lowering the number of cases.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Argentina

But the the frequency with which complaints continued to be filed and the fact that an unknown number of cases go unreported indicate that virtual kidnapping remains a significant security concern, especially in certain neighborhoods of Buenos Aires.

The statistics should also to be considered in light of a parallel rise of express kidnappings in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, as well as the concentration of 73 percent of kidnap for ransom in that same area, according to Ambito. Express kidnappings usually involve snatching someone on the street and holding them in a car, often their own vehicle, while a ransom is arranged.

Overall kidnapping cases for Argentina are, however, considerably lower than Mexico’s 1,698 reported cases in 2013But they do bring the country to around the same level as Colombia, which suffered from an average 300 reported kidnappings per year between 2012 and 2015, a phenomenon largely associated with that country’s internal conflict.

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