Thursday, May 24, 2007

trends in crime

Virtual Kidnapping, a new phenomenon in Latin America, made possible because real kidnappings are common.
Reliable statistics don't exist because most police forces register virtual kidnappings as robberies or assaults. Many victims also don't come forward at all because police are often unresponsive, inept or corrupt. Some people fear revenge for going public, while others are embarrassed about falling for the hoax.

But anecdotal evidence suggests virtual kidnappings are big business. In the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, police reported at least 3,000 virtual kidnapping complaints between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14. A Mexican citizen's group used polling to estimate that in 2004, 36,295 kidnappings took place in the country. They haven't reported newer data.

The criminals often get household details by hacking into databases or posing as service workers. Then they monitor the family's habits and choose a moment when the family is separated to make the call demanding money.

Others simply steal a cell phone, dial the preprogrammed number for "home," "mom" or "dad," and tell whoever answers that a kidnapping is in progress.

Virtual kidnappings have surged partly because criminals are increasingly adept at using new technology such as cell phones and computer databases, said Alejandro Zunca, a consultant who advises Brazilian and Argentine police. Criminals of all stripes also have embraced the scheme because it can be carried out from behind bars.

Another reason is that real kidnappings are so frequent. While an estimated 90 percent of victims don't report the crime, most experts agree that Mexico, along with Haiti and Colombia, is a world leader in kidnappings, and victims' relatives have so little faith in authorities that they usually try to resolve abductions on their own.