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Security risk

Security has long been on the radar of wealthy families, especially for those who remember the chilling spate of kidnappings in the 1970s and 1980s in Europe. So what steps can you take to protect your loved ones?
Security risk
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©David Lyttleton

When Zachary Dell posted a picture of his breakfast on Instagram, he must have thought it was harmless.

Crass, perhaps, as the breakfast in question was being eaten on board a private jet on the way to Fiji, but harmless. But Dell, whose father Michael founded the computer firm that bears him name, put into action a series of events that had big consequences. His sister Alexa also posted the picture on Instagram and tweeted the link. The picture went viral and the Dell family, which is said to spend $2.7 million (€2.1 million) a year on security, started having kittens.

A quick security review revealed that Alexa was constantly tweeting about her daily routine, complete with GPS locations, including the date, time and location of her high-school graduation dinner. The account was cancelled and, you imagine, stern words were said all round.

Security has long been on the radar of wealthy families, especially for those who remember the chilling spate of kidnappings in the 1970s and 1980s in Europe. Most notorious, perhaps, was the 1983 kidnapping of Freddy Heineken(pictured, left), who had recently brought the Dutch brewery back into family ownership. He was taken by a criminal gang who demanded, and got, 35 million guilders (the Dutch currency before the introduction of the euro).

A film starring Rutger Hauer as Freddie Heineken was even made. Other notorious cases include the kidnap of John Paul Getty III. His grandfather would only pay £2.2 million (€2.6 million), the maximum that was tax-deductible, even after receiving an ear in the post. In the US, Patty Hearst (pictured, right) of the Hearst publishing dynasty, and Sam Bronfman II, heir to the Seagram beverage dynasty, were kidnapped.

In Asia, a criminal calling himself Big Spender kidnapped both Walter Kwok in 1997, the head of a family-owned real estate empire in Hong Kong, and Victor Li in 1996, the son of Asia’s richest man, Li-Ka Shing (both pictured, left), who paid a $134 million ransom.

Although these cases are scary, rich people are statistically far less likely to be victims of crime than poor ones. Spectacular crimes are even rarer. But there are things you can do to make yourself safer. For a start, keep a low profile. Mike O’Neill, managing director of British security and risk consultancy Optimal Risk, and a former major in the Parachute Regiment who served in Northern Ireland and the Falklands campaign, used to look after the Beckham family. He says that the sort of scrutiny that a wealthy family has is “probably quite unique, if you start appearing in the newspapers people can start to target you. Something attracts people and they can start to get obsessive about it, then they start thinking: ‘Hmm, I think they live not far from me.’”

It might seem obvious, but appearing in glossy magazines showing off a Swiss watch collection might be foolish. “Ideally we’d have everyone driving Volkswagen Golfs and not dressing in flashy clothes,” says O’Neill. “People generally are quite sensible, particularly if they have grown up with money,” he adds. But there is a problem of perception.“They might think they live a fairly low-profile lifestyle, but other people won’t. If they live in an expensive house or are driving around in a convoy of Mercedes they might not notice how that looks. It’s not that you shouldn’t enjoy your wealth, but it’s better to maintain a lower profile.”

The first step to ensuring you are secure is to work out what you actually mean by security. “Mention it to some high net worth individuals and they will think solely in terms of burglar alarms and razor wire,” says Nick Williams, senior consultant in crisis and security management at Control Risks, a security consultancy. “Mention it to others and they are thinking about their data and server attacks. There’s a vast array of things that are involved.”

The first thing, he says, is to be clear in your objectives: what do the clients think security is and what are they trying to achieve? “We try and gradually educate people on the difference between risk perception, which is the natural, instinctive thoughts about the world, and move them towards risk-assessment, which is taking a slightly more systematic approach to help people work out what they should be focused on,” Williams adds.

Many people’s first thought is securing their property, but keeping your home or homes safe is more complex than some believe. “A typical case was when an individual called us in and said that he had spent a quarter of a million on technical security, the latest equipment, cameras and systems and so on,” says Williams. “He had an ongoing budget to employ about 10 people full-time, and yet he has been hit twice and made it into the papers for a big theft. He had fallen into the common trap of believing that walls, cameras, gizmos and ‘solutions’ make you safe.” Many crimes rely on what is known as the “human key”.

As Williams puts it: “You have the cameras, the fences, the walls, then you hire someone with no due diligence, no background check because he is an ex-military guy, pay him the minimum wage and hand him the keys to your security suite.” Insiders are the only ones who know where the assets are, and have the best idea how to circumvent systems.

Another common problem is having badly set-up burglar alarms. If it is set off by the dog or the kids wandering around, or a family member working late at night then people tend to just turn them off. Also, they can be complicated. O’Neill recommends that if you own several properties, have the same system and passwords in all of them. But essentially, adds Williams, when it comes to protecting a property, “crime prevention should not be focused internally on walls, but looking outwards, in the community and seeing what is around you, working with your neighbours”.

This was precisely what happened in the case of Joss Stone, the singer who was recently the target of a bizarre kidnap and murder plot. The would-be kidnappers were arrested close to her home, after asking locals where she lived. “They were spotted in the surveillance phase. Targeted attacks have a progressive build-up, reconnaissance and then maybe a rehearsal. There might be five locations where someone would park if they were looking at your house. The security team don’t have to sit at your gate waiting for something to happen, they can be plain clothes and drive around and if someone was in a car three days in the week, sitting there, looking in your drive, they’d report it.”

All the systems in the world won’t protect you against opportunistic theft. There was a recent case where thieves would pick people up outside Harrods, follow them home, then rob them of their watches or handbags on their doorstep. Such crimes are nasty, and frightening, even when the value of the thing stolen is irrelevant. It’s also common for thieves to target people getting in or out of their car.

Mark Lindsay, managing director of Security Management International and former head of security at the Bank of Oman, says “criminals tend to conduct reconnaissance of a target before they attack. This means they can be observed prior to committing the crime”. People can “receive training in the observation of patterns of suspicious activity” and learn how to take “evasive action”, he says. Your own eyes are better than cameras.

The thing people really want to protect is not their property, however, but their family members. Children, especially when they become teenagers, can be vulnerable. Of course, they should be aware that people might want to befriend them for their wealth or connections. There are cases when close protection is required, but they are rare.

If teams do follow youngsters, they should be clear about what they are protecting them from – is it only physical harm or is it reputational too? In the case that somebody is tweeting inappropriately from a nightclub, a tap on the shoulder and a suggestion that it might be time for bed might be unwelcome, but good advice.

O’Neill says that there has been much discussion in the sector over the behaviour of the team that was watching Prince Harry when his Las Vegas party ended up on front pages all over the world. “The police said that their role is to protect him physically, not his reputation, but we look at it much more holistically, and we are there to protect them from themselves,” he says.

“It’s not that we wouldn’t have allowed that party, but we would have made sure there were no cameras, and told people to leave their phones with us. If it had been my team and they had allowed that to happen I would have been extremely upset.”

Older family members, too, might need protecting. Take the case of Liliane Bettencourt (pictured, right), the L’Oréal heiress, who arguably has been taken advantage of by people only after her money. “We’ve put people into similar situations almost as companions, where they monitor and control access,” says O’Neill. This is a delicate situation where lawyers advise closely, and these companions can report any suspicious approaches.

As the Instagram case makes evident, the internet and especially social media have opened up a whole new front in security. The steps to protecting yourself are obvious, but often not followed. Don’t mix work and personal emails, make sure everything that can be password protected is, and make sure those passwords are strong.

Someone piggybacking on your broadband could get access to all sorts of sensitive information. And finally, remember that work is not safe, even though it might feel it. Information on mergers and acquisitions, pay, even addresses, are often held by human resources departments or personal assistants. Again, this comes down to people. An IT manager who recently lost on the horses is more likely to cause you harm than a gang of men in balaclavas.

Advice for staying safe when traveling overseas 
You are often at most risk when travelling abroad, especially in certain areas – outside cities, for example, or in volatile parts of the world, or just where you might be seen as wealthier than you are. “At least six proactive steps can be taken to mitigate risks when travelling abroad,” says Mark Lindsay of Security Management International. He recommends the mnemonic Tic-Tac to remember the right strategy. 

1: TOLERANCE OF RISK 
Just as you have a level of acceptable risk when investing, so it is with your security. Main travel risks comprise health, driving, law, money, climate, culture, communications, and security. Thinking about these risks on a scale of 1 to 5 can help, where 1 is “there is almost no probability of these risks impacting the traveller” and 5 being “there is a high probability of these risks impacting the traveller”. So, if your risk tolerance is 1, it is better to travel to developed countries only. If your risk tolerance is 5, travelling to volatile emerging market countries may be tolerable.
2: INTELLIGENCE
Consult or register with your government’s state department website for information on the risks of travelling to particular countries. “If it is stated on the [Foreign & Commonwealth Office] website that travel to a specific area in a country is not recommended and a traveller with a high tolerance of risk goes anyway, their insurances may not cover eventualities,” says Lindsay. Check if your company can provide Kidnap & Ransom (K&R) insurance for business trips.
3: COMMUNICATION 
Once they have arranged travel insurance, inoculations, contingency funds, travel document copies, etc, travellers should inform trusted personal contacts of these details and keep them updated on a regular basis until they return back home.
4: TACT 
While maintaining regular communications with personal contacts, travellers should be tactful about their personal circumstances and limit to a minimum the information they give to anybody else. Only tell strangers what they need to know.
5: AUSTERITY 
It is advisable not to travel with/display valuables such as jewellery, expensive watches, large sums of cash, designer clothing, etc. These items can become a target for criminals and create an impression of wealth, which is not sensible in a poor country.
6: COUNTER-SURVEILLANCE
Travellers should be aware of suspicious behaviour towards them. For instance, alarm bells should start ringing if the traveller notices they are being followed or strangers are observing them regularly. This could be a sign that criminals are conducting a reconnaissance for an attack. Travellers could show they are aware of such activity, which is a deterrent in itself, as criminals prefer to attack the unaware.

Illustrations copyrighted to David Lyttleton; photographs copyrighted to Press Association and Associated Press.

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