Underreporting Helps Extortion Thrive in Mexico, Latin America

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Citizens in Mexico are extorted once every hour and 15 minutes, underscoring how fundamental this activity is for the country’s criminals and how severe underreporting makes it increasingly difficult for authorities across the region to combat this crime.

Organized crime groups in Mexico extorted 6.6 million people and 525,000 businesses — 93.2 percent of the time via telephone — in 2017, in what has become one of the most commonly committed crimes in the country, according to Mexico’s National Statistics Agency (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía – INEGI), Milenio reported.

The money demanded by extortionists was handed over in 448,800 individual cases, and businesses that were extorted paid up in 8.3 percent of reported cases in 2017, according to Milenio.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

However, authorities are struggling to hold those responsible for carrying out these crimes accountable. Extortion demands go unreported in 97.4 percent of cases, according to authorities. Only acts of corruption are underreported at a higher rate.

Nationwide, extortion ranks as the third most common crime in the country. On the state level, however, extortion is the most common crime in criminal hotspots like Guanajuato, where crime groups are currently in a violent battle over control of oil theft activities, and the second most common crime in states like Guerrero, where authorities have for years struggled to combat the control that organized crime groups wield, according to the 2018 National Survey of Victimization and Perception of Public Security (Encuesta Nacional de Victimización y Percepción de la Seguridad Pública – ENVIPE).


(Graphic courtesy of Milenio)

InSight Crime Analysis

The severe underreporting of extortion crimes in Mexico is part of a broader regional phenomenon throughout Latin America, and is the main obstacle for authorities when trying to hold those responsible to account.

Through field research in Central America’s Northern Triangle region of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, InSight Crime found that citizens fail to report these crimes for fear of reprisal from the gangs due to the possible leaking of information from corrupt police forces, or simply because they believe that it won’t be of any use because the crime has become so widespread and falling victim to it has become nearly inevitable.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extortion

But what makes it even more difficult to hold extortionists responsible is the fact that a large number of these extortion calls are made from prison using cell phones that have been smuggled inside. Even if authorities knew who made the demands, it’s very hard to gather enough evidence to build a case that is strong enough to prosecute those behind them.

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