Friday, March 25, 2011

How to Survive a Robbery

               William Sutton was popular.  He was, in many ways, a gentleman.  He enjoyed his work and was quoted as saying that he only felt truly alive when plying his trade.  The only problem was that his trade was robbing banks.  Over the course of his life, he robbed 100 banks and netted about $2 million.  The downside, for him, was that he spent half of his adult life in prison.
               In an interview later in his life, he claimed that the weapons he used in his robberies were unloaded.  He was not a violent thief, no one was ever hurt during his heists, and he claimed that if a woman screamed or a child cried he would stop the robbery.
               Unfortunately, not all robbers are as inclined to avoid violence.  In fact, about 10% of homicides occur during robberies.  In one study of a group of incarcerated robbery suspects, almost all did not plan to use violence, but most were willing to use violence if the victim challenged them or did not cooperate.
               Victims are in a very dangerous position during a robbery.  Even our friend William Sutton, aka “Slick Willie,” usually carried a Thompson machine gun noting that you couldn’t rob a bank with charm and personality alone.  Obviously, the victims would not know at the time whether his gun was loaded or not nor whether he was going to hurt them or not. 
               Most robbers are desperate and looking for a ‘quick win.’  The motive for most is to gain money for illegal street activity, such as gambling or drugs.  If drugs are involved that only escalates the risk as the suspect may be going through withdrawal symptoms.
               The risks related to robbery were highlighted recently in a case in Boulder, Colorado.  A man and woman were walking near the college campus at 2 am when a masked man with a gun confronted them.  Initially, the woman thought it was a prank and pulled the bandana off the suspect.  At one point, there was a physical scuffle and the robber fired a warning shot into the air and turned the gun towards the man, shooting and killing him. 
               Fortunately, the police arrested the suspect, Kevin McGregor, within days and charged him with 1st degree murder as well as possession of a firearm by a previous offender.  As it turned out, the suspect had been involved in a robbery in 2008 when the victim was stabbed in the head with a knife.  McGregor served 120 days of a sentence that was originally supposed to be five years. 
               Both cases offer valuable lessons on dealing with robberies.  Perhaps the first lesson is that businesses recognize their risk.  A reporter credited William Sutton with saying that he robbed banks because “that’s where the money is.”  Obvious, but it is often ignored.  If your business handles cash or drugs then you are at a higher risk.  Some simple steps can help reduce that risk though.  William Sutton earned the title of “Slick Willie” long before our 42nd president because of his use of disguises to infiltrate his target banks.  He was arrested or stopped on more than one occasion because of alert and suspicious passers-by.
               Most robbers will stake-out their crime ahead of time, especially to make note of escape routes and potential problems.  They will look for where the cash or drugs are stored.  Some suspects preferred crowds and felt that the numerous people helped cover their escape.  Most prefer isolation and catching their victims alone.  Suspects also look for hiding places to use before the offense, either to hide in the business or to remain out of sight waiting for the chance to commit their crime.
               Part of the prevention process is to limit or minimize the hiding areas around your business, as well as signs stating that the cash is locked and not accessible, such as “Our cash registers only have $20 in the drawer.”  Potential escape routes are another important consideration.  Walk around your business thinking like a robber.  How would you plan it?  How would you get away?  When would you time it?
               Some studies have found that some security measures such as video surveillance do not deter criminals.  We only have to watch shows like “America’s Dumbest Criminals” to see that crooks will really do some dumb things knowing that they are almost certainly being recorded on video.
               On a personal level, the same prevention principles still apply.  Be aware of your surroundings and keep your personal valuables out of sight as much as possible.  Some suspects are looking for the right opportunity and seeing a purse hanging loosely from a woman’s shoulder may be a target for a quick ‘strong-arm’ robbery. 
               Remember that a robbery is a very dangerous situation.  If you are robbed, don’t fight for your property, but do fight for your life.  Generally, giving the crook what they ask for as quickly as possible will get them away from you as soon as possible, especially if they are armed.  Don’t make direct eye contact as they may feel you are trying to memorize their face or description.  Do try to note all the descriptors that you can, especially the things that cannot be easily changed.  Skin tone, height, build, tattoos, scars etc. are things that cannot be disguised easily. 
               Of course, call the police immediately.  Too often, victims call their friends, relatives or boss first.  Make the first call to the police to give them the best chance to catch the crook red-handed. 
               The last piece of advice is a tough one.  If the suspect becomes violent and tries to hurt you or someone else, then you must fight back and defend yourself.  Your life is in danger and you must fight like it.  Do whatever it takes: biting, kicking, gouging.  For situations like this, the most important self-defense move is to think through what you will do in a situation like that.  Picture your workplace or places you frequent and imagine scenarios where you might encounter a robber and what you will do to protect yourself.  Having a plan in mind will help keep you from freezing in a moment of terror and could make all the difference.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Virtual Kidnapping a Real Crime

               International travel is an adventure where you can experience new foods, see new locations and sites and enjoy different cultures.  Most of us are fine with the adventure ending there and do not want to become a victim of criminals taking advantage of travelers.  Unfortunately, that happens to thousands every year.
               As technology changes so do the types of crimes faced by us all, whether traveling or not.  One example that has been rampant in Mexico and South America has been the virtual kidnapping.  According to one news story from CBS, there were 44,000 attempts at virtual kidnapping in a few months. 
               So what is virtual kidnapping?  There are different methods and ways to carry out this crime.  The most basic is that a traveler has their cell phone stolen or pick pocketed and the suspect uses it to call home or other contacts from the address book.  The caller will announce that the owner of the cell phone has been kidnapped and that money must be immediately sent via Western Union to release the victim.  Many relatives will immediately wire the money out of fear for their loved one.  Often, the victim’s employer, in the case of business travelers, will send the money to avoid any risk to the employee or the company’s reputation.
               Of course, as potential victims become more aware of scams like this, the likelihood of the ‘kidnappers’ being successful drops to a rate comparable to the number of people who actually think that they won the Nigerian lottery and only need to wire money to get their check.  So the tactics adapt and improve.
               Potential virtual kidnappers now need to plan their fake abductions a little more carefully to become more believable.  In one case, a mother received a call from a woman crying for help.  The voice sounded like her daughter and was very convincing amidst the demands for money by a male voice – until the daughter begged her father to help.  The mother realized the call was a fake as the father had been dead for several years.
               Often, we make ourselves great potential victims before we even get on the flight to take us to our international destination.  Facebook and other social sites have become a great way to share information with friends about upcoming travel, but, unfortunately, are also a very useful intelligence tool for someone with Internet access half a world away to learn of our travels as well.  Even Linked In has a travel feature that lets contacts know where we will be and when.  Even if you assume that only your contacts can see your plan, do you really believe that all 500 of your Facebook friends are really people you know well?
               There are also the travel chat rooms visible to anyone who may be able to get your name and address or hometown in short order with a Google search.  A potential virtual kidnapper can time a call to family when you are traveling in a remote area without cell phone access.  In that case, they don’t even have to use your cell phone for their threats.
               Of course, even if you don’t post your plans, some of your friends may on their social networking posts.  So unless you plan on keeping your travel plans top secret from even friends and relatives you may need to take some other precautions.
               One is to arrange to have code words or phrases with family in case you are kidnapped abroad.  One security source recommends having two code words, one to let your family know that you are okay and the other to let them know you are not and that you are in a dangerous situation.  Make sure that your family asks for “proof of life” if you are kidnapped.  A “legitimate” kidnapper will expect that before they will get any ransom paid and will be prepared to let the victim talk directly to family on the phone.  If not, then no ransom should be paid – the victim may already be dead or may not even have been kidnapped.
               This type of crime may not sound serious, but imagine being in that position.  Knowing that your son, daughter, or spouse was traveling in a risky country and then you get a phone call demanding a ransom and the caller seems to be knowledgeable about them, won’t you feel scared and tempted to pay anything to get your family freed?  That is a natural reaction and that is what makes this crime so much more frightening than other types of frauds or scams – your loved one may be in danger and you will be worried until you hear from them and hear that they are okay.
               International travel can involve so many different types of risks that it is always a good idea to check with the U.S. State Department for specific crime information and travel advisories to your destination before your trip.  A quick review of potential problems and pre-planning can make all the difference between having a fun travel adventure or a terrifying and dangerous experience.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

License to Fool: Renault Spy Case Takes Another Twist

               In Paris, the spy case embroiling French automaker, Renault, is falling apart, but the bizarre twists continue.  Originally, allegations were made against three of Renault’s executives, accusing the three of selling vital corporate information.   There were rumors of Chinese involvement and investigators began searching for Swiss bank accounts where payments were sent to the executives.  (For a recap and tips on protecting information, visit the original post from January, Corporate Spies and Protecting Proprietary Information). 
               Renault’s security director, a former military spy, Dominique Gevrey, helped spearhead the internal investigation against the three executives.  The investigation expenses were piling up to the tune of $433,000.  Gevrey found an informant with more information – information to sell for another $545,000.  Before the additional payment was made, French investigators realized that the informant didn’t exist.  Neither did the Swiss bank accounts.  In fact, the only secret accounts were in Spain and Dubai and had been set up by Gevrey, according to investigators.
               Gevrey took the money that was to be used for the corporate espionage investigation and was banking it for himself.  He had created the original allegations against the three execs as a sort of investigative  or “intelligence” fraud. 
               Gevrey was arrested in Paris this week as he was boarding a plane bound for Guinea. 
               So what are the Business Karate lessons for a corporate self-defense strategy?  The first lesson is to confirm business intelligence whether it is an anonymous tip on internal criminal problems or even information about the competition.  Evaluate the information and the source before reacting.
               The second lesson would be to ensure that all departments, even security, have proper oversight and are audited.  I am certain that Gevrey presented a very convincing case for the costs of the investigation and also for the charges against the three executives.  He would have known that the case would be highly publicized and that he was literally trying to frame three innocent individuals.  The individuals are well off and of course, knowing that they were innocent would never stop fighting the false charges.  One has to wonder how far Gevrey was prepared to take the case and even if he had some type of unflattering information on the three that he thought might keep them from protesting too hard. 
               Renault executives or even the CEO should have paid more attention to the developments and especially questioned payments to an anonymous source.  In law enforcement circles, anonymous tips are the most unreliable source of information from a legal perspective and have to be corroborated more than other proven sources.  From a corporate perspective, be sure to evaluate where intelligence is coming from before making an expensive and potentially embarrassing mistake.
               Certainly, this story will take more strange turns as the investigation and prosecution continue.  Keep checking back for updates.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fighting Back - One Way to Beat a Rapist

               The shadowy figure paused briefly before running across the lawn.  A gloved hand reached out and pushed open the window and he climbed inside.  Nearby, on the bed, he could see the woman sleeping and moved towards her.
               Something similar happened in a small Colorado town recently, just after 1 am.  In this case, the suspect tried to sexually assault the woman, but she fought back.  No, she wasn’t necessarily a martial arts expert nor have a black belt.  She bit him.  On the neck.  As in a vampire-style bite.  This unorthodox self-defense move did just want it should have – it stopped the attack and the suspect fled.
               In 2009, a sex offender attacked a woman in an attempted rape.  She fought back, biting off the suspect’s tongue, severing it.  Ouch.  He was arrested later, but I am sure that his injuries must have made the subsequent police interviews interesting.
               Neither approach is probably the ideal solution.  After all, who wants to bite someone else, especially someone attacking you?  Nevertheless, in both cases, the women stopped the attacker.
               Rape is a violent crime, one that is extremely damaging both physically and mentally.  I’ve known women who equate rape with murder and even some who think of it as worse. 
               In these cases, the victims decided not to succumb to the attack, made the decision to fight back, and did so successfully.  Too often, we hear police department spokespersons and other crime prevention sources warning against fighting back against criminals.  And sometimes that may be the right approach.  Property can be replaced, but our health or wellbeing is not always so easy to recover.  The problem with this approach or mindset is that victims forget that there is a time to fight back and to protect one’s self.  That is opposite of what we are taught and how we are trained, going back all the way to grade school.  We are taught from a young age that fighting is wrong and you will get in trouble no matter the case.  That is a good lesson to learn, but then when you are physically in danger, all of a sudden you are ‘expected’ to undo a lifetime’s worth of lessons and reinforcement.
I teach in personal safety classes that it is not worth fighting for property, but do fight for your life.  However, you cannot expect to be ready for that type of situation without some pre-planning and preparing yourself mentally.  Before finding yourself in a dangerous, life-threatening situation, build your plan and think about how you would respond physically and what items around you that you may use as a weapon.  A lamp on the desk next to you may suffice, or a chair or table where you are sitting now. 
However, the most important weapon is your mind.  Your plan and mental preparation can make all the difference in a survival situation.  That adds to your determination to come out alive.  If it helps your resolve, remember this fact: 80% of victims who are moved from the point where they are first attacked end up being murdered.  If someone ever attacks you and tries to get you into a car or move you somewhere else, it is an extremely dangerous position and you really have nothing to lose by fighting back with everything that you have no matter what.
In the cases above, the victims did fight back.  From the news stories, we obviously don’t know what forethought the victims had, but still both did whatever they could to fight back.  That is the real lesson in these situations.  When faced with violent acts, be prepared to fight back in any way possible and be determined not to stop until you prevail.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Pirates, Crooks and Protection Money

            When Jean and Scott sailed away from the port at Mumbai, they had no idea that they wouldn’t set foot on land again.  Within days of sailing, their yacht was captured by a group of Somalia pirates.  While pirates negotiated with the U.S. Navy, the others aboard the yacht killed Jean and Scott, along with their two friends, Phyllis and Bob; the reasons still are unclear.

            Jean and Scott had set off to sail around the world as missionaries with a store of bibles onboard.  On their website, the couple wrote that there next stop was going to be Djibouti and then up the Red Sea and, they wrote, then to Turkey where they wanted to get some repair work done on the boat.

            The Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Jack Lang, called for the international community to take a stronger and unified response to piracy and terrorism.  According to the article in the French newspaper Le Monde 90% of pirates captured are released as there is no place to put them on trial.

            Lang estimated that the pirates still hold about 800 hostages and 30 ships and that there are about 1500 pirates operating around Somalia.  He believes that the pirates are led by six to seven commanders, some known to officials.

            It would seem that the clear response would be to focus on the leaders, bringing them to justice, working for the release of the existing hostages.  The other step is to establish the means to take away the rewards and benefits of committing a crime and make it too dangerous to try.  Right now, pirates can hold ships, cargos and crews for ransom and get a high return with relatively little risk.      

            However, there are always those who disagree.  Another representative from the EU, a socialist, wants to see a special court system set up, possibly in Tunisia with a dedicated prison for piracy.  The real difference is that the same representative believes that piracy can be solved by incentives, meaning money, to improve the economy of the area. 

            The idea is the equivalent of running a store in an urban neighborhood and agreeing to pay the local gang protection money to be left alone.  It is as if we believe that no one has moral values or character unless they have a thick wallet.  Certainly, economics is a factor in crime, but hardly the sole factor and definitely not the main cause.  How many rich people have committed scams in order to become even richer, never to have the time to spend all the money stolen, such as Bernie Madoff?  And how many poor people work hard every day to stay afloat and never turn to crime as a solution.  That is not to say that a good person might not steal to feed his family, but that is the extreme case.

            The point is that people, poor or rich, make decisions and those decisions affect the lives of others when they choose to steal, rob, kidnap or kill.  That is something that should never be tolerated.  Whether it is violent street crimes, piracy or even terrorism, we need to stand on principles and refuse to tolerate criminal behavior.  That should go for property crime as well, including the wealthy who prey on others through pyramid schemes or other scams.

The solution may not exist.  There will not be a world without evil and without those willing to commit it.  But the most effective response will be a multi-faceted approach, one that looks at underlying causes, but one that also reinforces our laws with tough penalties.  Paying protection money, or artificially creating a Somali economy, will only reinforce what has been done in the past to reap that reward.  In Somali, and other locations, having the international community donate money or even supplies typically backfires as those with the strong arm take control and keep the benefits for themselves.

Creating respect for the laws of the world often means creating fear of what will happen if someone fails to comply.  We need to create an environment where crime in fact does not pay.