Introducing Safe Travel Abroad – A New E-Book

Safe Travel Abroad – A New Kindle E-Book

Protective Concepts Blog is pleased to announce a new Kindle E-Book by Integrated Protective Concepts called Safe Travel AbroadSafe Travel Abroad is a compilation of many of the articles that have appeared here at the Protective Concepts blog arranged in a sensible order to be used as a guidebook for global travelers and expatriates.

The new book is available through Amazon at the following link:

When 419 Fraud Gets Dangerous

Advanced fee fraud – commonly known as 419 fraud has been going on for years.  Most commonly manifested in the emails – and in the past faxes and letters – that the potential victims receive offering them an opportunity to get a large sum of money to facilitate the transfer of funds or provide some other assistance.  The facilitation always requires the victim to provide some money up front – with the expectation of a big payday at the end.  It’s worth mentioning that while the overwhelming majority of these 419 scams play on the victim’s greed there are at least two other types that are becoming very common now – one which takes advantage of the victim’s desire for romance and one that plays on the victim’s good intention to help a friend or acquaintance in need.  In the first case the victim will be approached online by someone purporting to desire a romantic relationship.  This will be accompanied by the requisite photos of an attractive person.  Once contact is established and maintained for a set period of time there will be a request for money – either to make a visit to the victim, for a sick relative or some other urgent situation.  The second type involves receiving an email from a friend or acquaintance that is traveling overseas and has been robbed or has had some other misfortune and needs money.  In some sophisticated cases they me even hijack or spoof the friend/acquaintance’s real email address to add credibility.

While most people consider themselves too smart to fall for such transparent scams, the fact is many do or the fraud would have died out long ago.  Additionally, there are new strains that are more sophisticated where there may be in-person approaches to potential victims who travel or work abroad and in many cases these fraudsters are backstopped with elaborate props such as fake offices, seemingly official documents and other things that give them credibility.  This has been particularly prevalent in gold fraud scams occurring in Ghana.  They are also imbued with patience and increasingly the fraudsters are willing to take their time and develop a relationship over many months, sometimes even a year or more before bilking their victim.

While advanced fee fraud can be all over the work it is perhaps most common in West Africa, specifically Nigeria.  In fact the term “419” comes from the code for fraud in the Nigerian Penal Code.

So when does 419 fraud go from beyond just being a white collar financial fraud and become dangerous?  Generally it’s when the victim gets into a situation where they come into personal contact with the fraudsters.  In some cases the victim may be invited to visit the country where the fraudsters are located and subsequently kidnapped and held for ransom.  This has happened on several occasions in South Africa in particular.  While some of the victims have been released after payment of a ransom some like Greek businessman George Makronalli aren’t so lucky and are murdered.  In May 2012 a US citizen was kidnapped for ransom in the West African nation of Benin.  He reportedly traveled to Benin to meet contacts regarding a “business deal”.  He was later released unharmed in neighboring Ghana.

The important thing to take away from this is that you should be very skeptical and careful about any unsolicited approaches or offers of business deals even those that may have the trappings of legitimacy.  Also – understand that any person-to-person contact or visits you may be invited to make to conduct meetings can move into the realm of physical danger and that what was before a financial fraud can become a kidnapping or extortion with violent consequences.



Air Travel Security

While air travel in much of the world is typically very safe – and the statistically higher frequency of vehicular accidents as opposed to aviation accidents is often cited in making this point – there are definitely some risks involved, particularly in the developing world.  The absence of regulatory enforcement, costs constraints and a lax safety culture can all contribute to raising the risk.

There are several key steps you can take to greatly enhance your safety and security when traveling by air:

  • Air carrier selection:  Make every effort to select an airline with a good safety record.  This may mean a longer or more costly trip but it’s still worthwhile.
  • Avoid trouble spots: avoid changing flights in cities with serious safety concerns.  A flight delay or cancellation could force you to remain overnight will little preparation or knowledge of the local threat environment.
  • Carry essential items on board in your carry-on bag.  Don’t put valuables or items that are critical for your trip in checked baggage.  Checked baggage may be lost or stolen or items may be pilfered from inside the bag.
  • At the airport clear the security checkpoint as quickly as possible and remain in the “secure” side of the airport that is for screened and ticketed passengers until its time for your flight.  Public areas of the airport are very vulnerable and as aviation and airport security increases there is likely t be a target shift to softer, easier access areas of the airport.  This was evidenced in the recent bombing at the baggage claim area in Domodedovo Airport in Moscow.
  • When boarding the aircraft immediately locate the exists closest to you and determine the number of seats between you and the exit to ensure you can find it in periods of reduced visibility.
  • Assess your fellow passengers as they board and identify persons who might be a potential problem.  This does not only mean potential terrorist concerns.  Intoxicated passengers and air rage incidents are far more common.
  • Consider keeping valuables with you or in a bag under the seat in front of you as there have been issues with theft from bags in overhead bins, especially on long haul flights.
  • You may also want to place bags in the overhead bin opposite and forward of your seat to be able to observe them better.



Active Shooter Situations

One of the most dangerous situations you can encounter at home or abroad is an active shooter scenario.  Particularly since the Columbine School shooting US law enforcement has devoted a great deal of effort on training to deal with active shooter situations.  This phenomenon has occurred over and over again – most notably as of this writing with the Colorado movie theater shooting.  This is not a uniquely American experience as active shooter situations have occurred in different places around the world.  In some of the foreign cases the “active shootings” are actually militant attacks on soft targets.

Two examples of particular concern for travelers are the January 2008 attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan and the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.  In both cases the attackers breached hotels (the Mumbai attacks also involved other soft targets) and victimized guests.

While these attacks had pre-incident indicators they likely would not be visible to a short-term hotel guest.  Therefore – as with most of the types of situations we have discussed before – the best immediate defense is awareness.  As soon as you become aware that an active shooter situation is occurring you typically have to choose quickly between two options: (1) evacuate (2) shelter in place.  If conditions permit and you can do it safely it’s usually best to evacuate the building under attack and move to a safe location.  The difficulty with this option is that frequently too much may be unclear to make a good decision.  Has the shooter or shooters blocked the exits?  Have they set up fields of fire on the likely evacuation routes, hoping to draw people into a killzone?  In many cases you may have to go for option 2, to shelter in place.


When sheltering in place it’s important to consider cover and concealment.  How do they differ?  Cover is any object that will protect your body from gunfire, shrapnel and other projectiles.  Concealment protects your body against visibility and detection.  Both are important.  Some objects will offer both cover and concealment, some will offer one but not the other.  Whenever possible you want both.  Also as with any defensive position you want to use a layered approach if you can.  As an example, if you become aware of an active shooter threat you might seek shelter in a closed, locked office or your hotel room if you are in a hotel.  This will provide you concealment (unless of course it’s a glass office) and possibly a minor barrier (the locked door).  Once inside the office you can seek cover and in fact additional concealment by going behind a large desk or other piece of furniture.  You should silence your cell phone, watch alarm or any other electronic device that might emit noise and give away your location.  You should also try to arm yourself with an improvised weapon of some type and prepare yourself mentally should you be discovered and have to attack the shooter as a last ditch effort.  If possible you should call a reliable contact or an emergency number for the police and advise them of the situation.  Be cautious however about revealing your location.  If it’s a lone shooter then it’s probably useful to the responding police to know where you are located. However in a more complex terrorist event, like the Mumbai Attacks the attackers maybe using scanners to monitor first responder radio transmissions and cell phone calls.  There is a risk – although maybe remote – that they may intercept your call and therefore know the location where you are hiding.  Unfortunately you likely won’t know the nature of the attack when it occurs.  You may have to make your decision based on the location where you are, what the likely threats are and their potential capabilities.


Additional resources are the US Department of Homeland Security Active Shooter Response Guide ( and pocket card ( and the NYPD Active Shooter Recommendations and Analysis for Risk Mitigation (