Based on personal experience, it’s time to outline motives and actions to avoid kidnapping and extortion in Colombia. We reviewed online forums and interviewed a professional investigator with the Manizales police to create solid recommendations on how to avoid falling into these traps.
American Kidnapped in Colombia
Renewed kidnapping and extortion in Colombia in 2022 is an issue that we are going to confront in order to increase YOUR personal safety via education and awareness.
This isn’t the first incident of an American kidnapped in Colombia, and it probably won’t be the last. Our editor Erin was called to go provide translation services and ALMOST got kidnapped and extorted as a result in Quinchia, Risaralda.
Quinchia is town of around 30,000 people and approximately 3 to 4 hours from Pereira by bus. Transportes Batero is the direct line that passes from the terminals of Pereira and through Anserma, Caldas. At the Las Cejas crossing, it leaves the road to Medellin and goes down around a mountain to the place where our editors’ adventure took place.
In short, here’s what happened:
“I am home after living a little trip, or paseo, that turned into a nightmare. I got a call from a foreign visitor with a British accent to go work as a translator for a business deal that was at risk of falling through due to communication hurdles. Turned out to be a farm, way out in the middle of nowhere – in Quinchia, Risaralda. I have done similar things and have even been called to jump up and go to work one moment or another. What saved my skin was by not going alone but with a friend. Long story short we thought we were being detained by paramilitary, hid out in a coffee field and thanks to military intelligence and the local police we made it home safely without being extorted, but not for lack of effort. It was a freaky experience – these people play mind tricks on you and do a good job convincing you its real. Anyways, I’m ok.” – Erin Donaldson, Correspondent/Editor in Chief | Coffee Axis Travel
We are not saying that Quinchia is dangerous in and of itself. The average tourist can visit safely with a bit of common sense and situational awareness. This is not a dangerous destination – especially now considering the recent unveiling of the Ciudad del Tiempo [City of Time] in the indigenous zones outside of the town.
What was dangerous, was the situation and a lack of further investigation and/or video call by Erin to confirm the identity of the presumed clients who needed a translator.
Tip #1: If you receive a call for services, it is important to engage the potential buyer on a video call and write down their information so you can build a case ensuring they are legitimate.
What saved Erin was her own response and the actions of her friend who showed valor and courage that day to get them out of the immediate area and then hiding out in a coffee field.
Tip #2: If you do find yourself the victim of kidnapping and extortion in Colombia, there are few steps you can take to escape the situation before you wind up hurt or robbed for all your savings. The first step is a smartphone app called “CallApp.” This helps to identify numbers that have been reported as having engaged in fraud or extortion.
Current Data and Information
There has always been an issue involving the kidnapping and extortion in Colombia but in far off rural areas which are known red zones.
In This Report by Insight Crime, it states that Colombia was once the kidnapping capital of the world with an average of 8 abductions per day. By the year 2000 there were entire regions with little to no police or military presence. In these places anyone wealthy or well known traveling from one city to another, or even very normal people could be at risk of being abducted.
As of 2014, abductions have been reduced dramatically and the average kidnapping does not last more than 30 days. Foreigners have mostly been the smallest percentage of kidnapping victims. Today kidnapping has turned into extortion a mental attack meant to cause the victim to send money. This requires much less resources and personnel while yielding faster results. 
Economic downturn from COVIDS and political uncertainty from administration changes, seems to have emboldened criminal organizations in recent months. Local experts in Medellin and the Coffee Axis along with their respective audiences and followers are perceiving an uptick in kidnapping and extortion situations or attempts.
Social proof as shown by this conversation in one of the most important expat groups in Medellin on August 29th, 2022.
Follow this link to read the thread and comments: https://m.facebook.com/groups/GringoPaisas/permalink/5508834059179264/
In most cases, it is telephone fraud by prison inmates who psychologically create a situation that puts the mental squeeze on callers.
According to some of the above comments they are coordinating with people on the outside to actually receive these people they are leading out in to lonely places. Which leaves us wondering what could have happened if there hadn’t been a faster response in our recent situation.
Tip #3: Don’t go to rural areas without a definite idea of who is waiting for you and what you are getting into. Especially if you offer transport, repair, or even teaching/translation services you need to exercise caution. Insist on a video call along with verifiable information about who they are and what they want!
“SEMANA” NEWS FLASH: As of September 12th, 2022 – more than 115 people have been captured through 23 raids and seizing 199 items including firearms, motorcycles and communication equipment used to commit crimes. 
Expert Tips to Avoid Kidnapping and Extortion in Colombia
We consulted with a police investigator (Alejandro V.) in Manizales for a few recommendations to help us avoid kidnapping and extortion in Colombia. The following is a translation of his recorded comments regarding personal safety and data protection:
- How to manage data. Publicly we must be extremely reserved with what we share both in face to face and online interactions. The information we are telling to our friends and family is being used by someone else. Only close friends and family should know where you live, who you live with, and any personal data that would give away information which could lead to extortion or robbery.
- The first thing the delinquent does is obtain a cell phone number. Then they research information related to your life, where you are going to travel, what you are going to do. It is then used against you when you leave home.
- Whatsapp. Avoid publishing any status that indicates travel plans or pictures that show where you will go. Do it after you return, or once you have left the town/city.
- Facebook. Who are you accepting as a friend? We see these people who look nice, but hidden behind some of these faces is a delinquent who is looking to get easy money. Less people watching you online is more valuable than many strangers with unseen motives.
There are many situations where the delinquent obtains information about a victim through their own family. They call your landline (telefono fijo) An employee, friend or child could answer and begin to give information. Our children innocently will give out our information: dog, cat, house, car, plate number, names etc. Then they wait for the right situation to call you and start telling you things they know about your life to put you into a shock state where you are vulnerable. Here is where the manipulation begins.
The internet is a tremendous tool to get information about others. They look for people who are journalists, drivers, engineers, or anyone who at the moment of receiving a call isn’t thinking about anything except going to work.
Relationships. There have been situations where people even create relationships and then try to isolate their victim. Maybe you are dating someone and problems arise with your family. Suddenly you wake up one day and your are alone, isolated and someone else is using you for your home, business or even a farm that they gain control over. One day this person murders their target = you.
Be careful who you get involved with. Protect your personal information. Keep a low profile online.
How can we protect our privacy?
How to hide your WhatsApp profile from strangers, or data privacy. Only allow contacts to see your photo. Go to Settings > Account > Privacy to restrict who can see your profile picture. You can still post pictures of you and your friends when you travel AFTER you return, or once you have LEFT the area.
Information is the primordial objective of a delinquent. Everything you do and publish online is opening the door to a crime being committed.
Tip #4: Always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. This should be a person who is close to you and trustworthy – like a colleague, friend or family member.
What should I do if someone calls me to try to extort me?
As soon as you realize what it is about, hang up and call the police. Keep in mind that they are going to already have some kind of information about your life when they call you in order to trick you mentally.
If you can’t see anyone physically in your immediate area threatening you, leave immediately and contact the police. If they call again, ask them to reveal themselves.
Most of these situations are prison inmates doing internet studies then calling you with a plan on how to trick you into believing them. Avoid giving them information over the phone.
Finally, if there is no victim, then there is no crime. Even if all you send them is 20,000 or some small amount – the police can’t generate a report or condemn that person unless they have hurt you or received money. Avoid using money sending services – ask for a bank account.
What happens if I get kidnapped?
It goes without saying that you should make every effort to avoid being stolen by criminals. Once they have you, your window for escape lessens dramatically the longer you remain with these people.
If you are kidnapped, the first thing that will happen is that they will take your phone. Then comes the interrogation to gain more information. Avoid giving away your potential income or assets. If you must speak, try to tangle them up.
If your work regularly takes you to rural areas, or you are someone who travels frequently to rural places, then you really should have a cover story – but this might be too elaborate and fussy for most people. A cover story basically consists of a job title and info which implies very little to offer potential captors. Have a contact who might “pose” as a family member but who has been instructed what to do if/when a call comes in, and a lot of luck.
Try to pass yourself off as not having money. If you begin by telling them that you have a business, money, assets or anything indicating wealth – chances are they are going to hold you longer and request more money.
Say you are a student. Keep them filled with lies. Avoid giving information about your family. Or, if you do – let it be something that will signal your family what is happening when they call with their demands.
Colombia has a special unit in the police and military called GAULA which deals only with kidnapping/extortion. If you are able to access a phone, call 1-2-3 for the police and speak very clearly. Say, “estoy secuestrada, ayudame,” I am kidnapped, help! Then be ready to give as much information as possible.
At the time this is being written the holidays loom and delinquents are looking for December drinking funds. This can mean increased activity of common crime like robberies and assault. Extortions are markedly on the rise and can happen to literally anyone.
Tip #5: Take your time getting to know new people who enter your life. Listen to the reactions of your friends and family – they might be perceiving something you missed! Don’t bring new acquaintances to your home too fast.
If you found the information and recommendations about kidnapping and extortion in Colombia valuable, then be sure to share this article with your friends and family. Most people who have been properly informed or who have had this happen won’t fall into the trap a second time. Let’s avoid even having a first time.
Learn more about personal security and safety by reading our recent article about How Foreigners End Up Dead in Colombia!
Sources related to Kidnapping and Extortion in Colombia:
- Insight Crime https://insightcrime.org/news/analysis/behind-colombia-dramatic-fall-in-kidnappings/
- Secuestro y extorsión: delitos que no tienen freno en Colombia https://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/secuestro-y-extorsion-delitos-que-no-tienen-freno-en-colombia/202225/