Crime Trends

Thoughts on Kidnapping

Thoughts on Kidnapping 500 253 Greg Ellifritz

This guy is a security specialist in Mexico. He has a very good perspective about the violence that occurs in third world countries and how travelers can better protect themselves. Here are some of his thoughts about kidnappings.

Most Dangerous Countries for American Tourists

Most Dangerous Countries for American Tourists 700 633 Greg Ellifritz


A deep dive into the statistics about total tourist deaths, tourist deaths per capita, and how US government travel warnings don’t often tell the whole story about which countries are “safe” to visit.


For what it’s worth, I’ve traveled extensively in 15 of the top 25 countries where American tourists most commonly get killed.  I am obviously still alive.  Most of these countries are no more dangerous than any big city in the USA, some are much safer.  As a tourist, you are far more likely to die in a car crash than be killed by a terrorist or criminal.


The most dangerous countries for American tourists, ranked

Comparing Worldwide Murder Rates

Comparing Worldwide Murder Rates 240 161 Greg Ellifritz

You’ll often hear that the United States has the highest rate of gun violence in the “developed world.”  It turns out, how you define “developed” changes the equation.


The Mistake of Only Comparing US Murder Rates to “Developed” Countries



Common Mexican Scam

Common Mexican Scam 777 437 Greg Ellifritz

Here is an article by an ex-pat retired American police officer currently living in Mexico.  He describes a common scam that is running rampant in the Cancun area.  Versions of this scam happen everywhere, often to foreign tourists.  It might be one of the most common scams seen worldwide.


Riviera Maya: Beware of This Scam


How do you stop it?  I like his advice:  “I immediately become suspicious of unsolicited help from strangers. That suspicion level grows exponentially if the person is trying to get me to accompany them to more isolated location, like a bathroom or a parking lot.”

Mexican Street Attacks

Mexican Street Attacks 320 310 Greg Ellifritz

Borderland Beat is reporting a new trend that Mexican criminals are using to rob and kidnap motorists.  Read about it at the link below.


Puebla: Citizen Motorists Warn of Popular Assault Method


The criminals know they can’t do much to you when you are traveling 60mph in an automobile.  They have to make you get out of your car to victimize you.  Don’t play the game.

If someone throws anything on your windshield to obscure your vision, don’t stop.  Even if you have to drive with your head out of the window to navigate, do so.  Drive a few miles away.  Watch for anyone following you.  If you aren’t being followed, stop to clean your windshield in a busy public location.



The ISIS Bus Attack

The ISIS Bus Attack 150 150 Greg Ellifritz



Although it went virtually unmentioned in the US national media, ISIS perpetrated a vicious massacre against members of a different Islamic sect in Pakistan.  The terrorists targeted a bus full of Shiite Muslims on their way to a community center.  Six terrorists used motorcycles to ride along side the bus and shoot the passengers. They then boarded the bus and systematically shot all of the passengers in the head.  At last count 43 people were killed and an additional 13 were wounded.  For more details of the attack, read THIS ARTICLE.


Why is this important to my readers?  Two reasons:  One is that some of my readers use public transportation in foreign countries and need to be prepared for such an attack.  The second is that Islamist terrorists worldwide use the battleground in the middle east to refine terrorism tactics, techniques, and procedures so that they are more successful when utilized in other locations (like here in the USA).  Unless our society takes measures to prevent it, what we are currently seeing in Pakistan will someday be used against our own citizens here in the USA.  It’s prudent to be prepared.


Take a minute to think it through.  What would you do if you were a passenger in a bus that came under attack from a band of gun-toting motorcycle riders?  It’s likely that the six attackers were doubled up on three bikes so that the driver could maneuver, allowing the passenger to fire.  How would those three bikes most effectively stop the bus and perpetrate their attack?  How would you respond?  Here are some things to think about…


1) Don’t stop moving.  In an attack like this, the moving bus is the best weapon available.  If you are a passenger, don’t let the driver stop.  Even if you need to threaten the driver with force, make sure he keeps the bus up to speed.  Ideally, he should be trying to strike the motorcycle riders as he makes his escape.


The terrorists may intentionally target the driver with the first bursts of gunfire, forcing him to crash and stop.  Are you prepared to drag the driver’s body out of the seat and drive the bus yourself?  If you are sitting close enough to the driver, that may be the most successful intervention you can pull off.  Waiting until all six guys are on the bus and firing doesn’t leave you with many viable options.


2) Choose your seats wisely.  In addition to being seated near the driver as mentioned above, sitting close to one of the exits is beneficial.  It’s likely that these terrorists didn’t execute the attack perfectly.  There may have been a brief escape opportunity during an early part of the attack.  If you aren’t sitting near an exit, you won’t be able to get off quickly.


Aisle seats are important on public transportation.  If you plan on escaping or fighting, you’ll need quick access to the aisle.  Climbing over two other sleeping passengers to make your escape is less than optimal.


Don’t forget that some of the widows serve as emergency exits.  Don’t be afraid to break one with the little hammer mounted nearby and make your escape if things look nasty.


3) Block the aisles.  In a bus, attackers can be easily thwarted by physically blocking the aisles.  It’s tough for the terrorists’ teammates to get around you to join the fight or to victimize other passengers if you are fighting the lead attacker in the aisle.  In multiple attacker situations, it’s generally a good plan to “stack” (line up) your attackers so that you only have to fight one at a time.  There’s no place easier to do that than a bus aisle.  Don’t stay in your seat.  If you are going to fight, get to the aisle and make the terrorists fight there.  Even if you get killed, blocking the rest of the terrorists from penetrating deeper into the bus may facilitate some other passengers’ escapes.


4) You may have to play dead.  Although I generally don’t think that playing dead is usually a very successful tactic in the event of an active shooter event, it has worked in some past incidents.  If I couldn’t get out of the seat or I was too late and multiple shooters were already in the aisle spraying rounds with an AK-47, I might hit the ground and play dead until I get a better opportunity to act.  Draw whatever weapon you have available and wait for one of the terrorists to walk past your seat.  Attack him as soon as he passes by shooting him in the back of the head or bring him down by stabbing him in the leg.  Get control of his weapon and go to work on his buddies.


This may not have a high likelihood of success, but it seems like a better option than wildly charging several rifle-armed gunmen if you are unarmed.


One final thing to note: At least one of the terrorists in this attack was wearing a police uniform.  This is becoming a go-to strategy for Islamic terrorists.  I’ve written about this tactic extensively in past articles but it bears mentioning again.  Don’t make assumptions when you see someone in a uniform.  It might be a ruse that is designed to make you hesitate just long enough to get you killed.





Travel Log- Cartels, Drugs, and Human Trafficking in a Vacation Paradise

Travel Log- Cartels, Drugs, and Human Trafficking in a Vacation Paradise 599 410 Greg Ellifritz

*My Travel Log series describes various past travel adventures and provides perspective about living and traveling in different countries.  This particular segment covers a trip I took to Mexico in February of 2019.

I spent part of last week vacationing in Mexico.  I know some of you are shaking your head and saying you would never visit such a location because of the high level of cartel violence.  That tells me that you haven’t been there.


While there are certainly some places in Mexico that I would not visit for safety concerns, the tourist areas are actually quite safe for travelers, even if a bunch of cartel members are getting killed.  Counting the stamps in my passports shows that I’ve visited Mexico 17 times in the last 18 years.


I also made one visit where I hopped the border and entered illegally, but that is a story for another time.  The bottom line is that I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico.


I have very little security concerns about the “Riviera Maya” area between Cancun and Playa del Carmen.  Going up the peninsula from Cancun to Merida is also pretty safe, as are the ruins of Chichen Itza, the popular cenotes, Isla Holbox, and Isla Mujeres.  Those are most of the places you’d want to stay on the Caribbean coast.


Why the conflicting information?  Why do I think it’s safe when the government and all media sources are constantly telling us how dangerous Mexico is?


The Mexican drug cartels are battling each other over drug distribution territories.  They are also trying to expand their income sources by extorting business owners and government officials for “protection money.”  Besides defining their drug selling territories, they are also fighting about which cartel gets to extort which business area.


That means a lot of people involved in the drug gangs are getting killed.  When a cartel member gets killed, the victim cartel strikes back against the attacking cartel, killing both cartel members as well as their families.  Businessmen and government employees who don’t cooperate with the extortion are getting killed.


A map of the territories controlled by each major drug cartel.
From Statfor.


Guess who is not getting killed?  The tourists.  While there is a small chance of getting caught up in the crossfire of a cartel gun battle, that risk is also present in the gang territories of all the big cities in America.  So long as the tourist doesn’t get involved in drug sales, doesn’t openly insult cartel members, and stays away from prostitutes, the chance of the tourist getting killed in Mexico is close to zero.


Why are the tourists safe?


It’s because the drug cartels need the tourists to keep coming.  Who do you think owns those large all-inclusive resorts?  The drug cartels and their families.  They use those huge tourist resorts to launder their drug money.  If the tourists stop coming to Mexico, it becomes much harder for the cartels to operate.  They have a very clear motivation to keep the tourists safe.


Back to last week’s trip.  Even though we only spent four days in the country, I learned a massive amount of how the drug cartels operate and all about the local drug markets, cartel assassins, and human trafficking rings.  All were openly on display for anyone who was alert enough to take notice.  Ninety-nine percent of the tourists were too engrossed in their margaritas to really see what was going on right under their noses.


When we normally spend time in Mexico, we will rent an Air BnB condo or stay at a very small resort far outside the tourist zones.  We like a quieter and more local feel than what the big all inclusive resorts provide.  Because of that, I was unaware of a lot of the drug and human trafficking activity at the larger resorts.  I never saw any of it on previous trips precisely because we stayed in areas with few tourists.  I learned that American tourists play a much larger role in funding the cartels than I had previously realized.


On this trip we decided we wanted to make it easy as we were only going to be spending four days in the country.  We booked at a very large and fairly swanky all-inclusive resort hotel.  It was a wonderful location and we got all the beach and relaxation we had been looking for.  We also got an education about how drug sales work south of the border.


Over the past few years I’ve been working hard to increase my awareness levels and intuition.  I’ve been following some shamanic pathways I learned in the jungles of Peru and some exercises I’ve picked up in books.


Before you start thinking I’m crazy and spouting off woo-woo bullshit, consider that warriors throughout history have intensely studied the art of intuition and awareness in both time and space.  Here’s one of my favorite quotes on the topic from a 19th century Chinese Tai Chi master:

“If the opponent does not move, then I do not move.
At the opponent’s slightest move, I move first.”
– Wu Yuxiang


Master Yuxiang cultivated his awareness and intuition for decades to reach the point he writes about above.  I’m just a beginner, but I’m coming to understand the importance of cultivating my intuition as well as the advantages a high intuitive ability can bring to a defensive combatant.


Wu Yuxiang


One day on this vacation, I spent quite a bit of time working on some of the drills I use to refine my intuition.  I went to the beach and sat there.  I people watched all day long.  No book, no phone, no digital entertainment.  I was trying to be focused on living in the present moment.  As a result, I saw a lot of things that most tourists miss.


There is a massive complex operation uniting both drug dealers and their customers on the hotel zone beaches in Cancun.  After a day’s worth of observation and talking to a few of my fellow American travelers who had made some drug purchases the previous day, I was truly enlightened.


If you are a tourist who wants to buy drugs in Mexico, one of the easiest way of doing it is to ask a waiter at your hotel.  He can usually facilitate the deal for a generous trip.  I saw and heard  several such requests to our waiters during my day of observation.


One of the other ways to acquire a drug supply is through the local drug dealers on the beach.  The dealers walk back and forth on the beach pretending to sell some type of product.  All beaches are public in Mexico so these guys have essentially free reign to walk up and down the beach selling beach towels, sunscreen, sunglasses, and jewelry.


I very quickly noticed that the folks selling sunglasses and beach towels walked past our place on the beach at a hustling pace.  We seldom saw the same vendor more than once or twice a day.  These walking salesmen need to go where there is a market for their wares.  If people aren’t interested the first time you present them with your products, they probably won’t suddenly want what you are selling a couple of hours later.  The salesman keeps moving down the beach to attract new customers.


I observed an anomaly.  The guys selling boxes of Cuban cigars on the beach came back every 20 minutes or so.  I never saw them actually sell a single cigar.  How do these guys stay in business when there aren’t any customers interested in their wares?  It’s easy.  They aren’t selling cigars.  They are taking drug orders from the tourists.


The drug sales networks utilize the same tactics that terrorist cells use to keep from generating too much attention.  Also similar to a terrorist cell, the dealers employ lots of “cut outs” to reduce the damage should one of the dealers get arrested.  They compartmentalize their operations so that each individual player doesn’t know much about the entire operation.   Everything was on a “need to know” basis.


Here’s how the process works…


– You tell the cigar salesman what you want (I saw deals involving marijuana, powder cocaine, and heroin).

– The cigar salesman gives you a price, but doesn’t take your money.  He tells you to pay the person who approaches you and asks you for money in a few minutes.  He then saunters off.

– Another beach salesperson will then walk up to you under the pretense of selling you some insignificant trinket.  He takes your money for the drugs.  When the money changes hands the cigar salesman won’t even be on the same beach.  Plausible deniability for him if the deal is under surveillance.

– Within 30-60 minutes a third salesman drops off your drugs.

– Finally, if you need money back in change after the transaction, a fourth person will bring it to you soon after the drug delivery man has cleared the scene.  No one in the distribution chain is ever at the same place at the same time


There was quite a bit of drama involved in this process.  It seemed that only the cigar salesman speaks fluent English.  The dudes who pick up the money or drop off the drugs didn’t speak English at all.  They aren’t helpful if you have any questions.  I saw a couple different people getting themselves worked up about their deals.


One older white dude literally threw a temper tantrum on the beach because it took about 30 minutes for his cocaine to be delivered.  He was convinced that the dealer had ripped him off.  Another woman didn’t immediately get her change back after the drugs were delivered.  She was very upset until the “change guy” walked up and provided her with correct change.  It was a completely ludicrous scene to watch unfold.


I struck up a conversation with another hotel guest as he smoked a joint on the beach.  He filled me in on some additional details about how the game works.


According to my new friend, the cartels really don’t want to be in the business of making small scale marijuana deliveries.  Because of this fact, they intentionally limit the supply of weed to the dealers.  They want the dealers selling the cocaine and heroin instead of marijuana.  By noon each day, there was no weed available to purchase anywhere on the beach.  If you want to smoke, you better hit the dealer up early.


The cartels also have a price fixing effect on drug sales.  They set the prices.  The individual dealers aren’t allowed to either up charge or discount the product.  I didn’t inquire as to the prices of the hard drugs, but the smoking hotel guest told me that the going rate for subpar quality marijuana was expensive at $100 per quarter ounce.


Lots of drugs and cash moving around.  How do the cartels protect it and avoid getting ripped off by a competing gang?  They use undercover “security” or sicarios.  “Security” consisted of mostly Eastern European men patrolling around the property.  They always moved in pairs.  While they wore swimming attire, they never got in the pool or ocean.  Both men on each team carried heavy backpacks (presumably full of weapons of some type).


They looked low key, but it ended up being obvious that they weren’t hotel guests.  Each guest at the all-inclusive hotel had to wear a bracelet so that the restaurants wouldn’t serve free meals to people walking in off the beach.  “Security” was trying hard to fit in by acting like guests, but they missed one key detail.  None of them were wearing the hotel bracelet.


The men appeared to be capable and fit.  They patrolled in a purposeful random pattern, with two pairs constantly “on-duty” at any given time.


When I noted the lack of wrist bands, I started looking for that with other guests.  I quickly noticed a male/female couple.  They were sitting on the beach directly under the lifeguard chair.  They had neither bracelets or swimsuits.  They were speaking what sounded like Russian.  Both look like they were going through heroin withdrawal.


A waiter “placed” these two in their position.  The lifeguard kept an eye on them.  They never once got in the water or ordered a drink.  After a few hours, the two were led away by a couple of the “security” men.


I have no idea what those two were actually doing, but I would guess that the couple was somehow being “trafficked” from one location to another.  They were using the beach as a well-protected place to hide in plain sight.


All in all, I think my observation/intuition practice that day was immensely productive.  It’s truly astonishing to really see what so many other folks fail to observe.  There is a baffling amount of information available to you if you just take the time to notice it.


It might initially seem strange to say it, but seeing all this stuff actually made me feel a bit safer.  I knew that the drug lords want to keep tourists coming in.  But I didn’t know how much income those tourists also provided directly to the cartels in terms of illicit drug sales.


The “cigar salesmen” were very busy all day long.  We tourists are literally the geese who lay golden eggs.  The cartel bosses would likely do just about anything possible to ensure that the tourists are happy and safe.  There’s too much money to lose if the tourists stop coming to Cancun.




South American Crime Prevention Advice

South American Crime Prevention Advice 620 465 Greg Ellifritz

Everything you need to know about keeping safe comes down to recognizing toads and papaya.


I was reminded of this fact when I read the article linked below.  Check it out.  The woman’s partner won a lawsuit settlement.  He posted some pictures of the cash settlement on social media.  Some bad dudes saw the money and decided to rob him.  Three people broke into the man’s house, killed his female partner and stole all the money.

Woman shot dead after money flaunted on social media


What does that have to do with toads and papaya?


I spend a lot of time in South America.  Each country down there has its own cute or funny sayings.  They are called dichos in Spanish.  These dichos are usually witty statements that offer life advice.  I’ve grown fond of learning some of the dichos from the countries I visit.


In Peru there is a saying; “Hay sapos.”  Literally it means “There are toads.”


The “toads” my Peruvian friends are talking about are people who silently observe your activity and provide that information to others.  There are always “toads” watching your every move.


Peruvians use “hay sapos” as a caution to people handling money in public.  There are always “toads” watching for easy victims.  You may not see the sapos, but rest assured that they will be present.  Exercise caution.  The toads may not rob you, but they will certainly provide your information to someone who will for a little bit of cash.


If the guy in the link above had recognized that there are always “toads” watching, he probably wouldn’t have carelessly flashed his wad of money on social media.


A second pertinent dicho comes from Colombia.


The locals there have a descriptive term for people who do things which make it easy for a criminal to victimize them. Colombians call it “dar papaya.”


The term literally means “to give papaya.” In other words, you are so vulnerable it’s like giving the criminal a sweet treat. It’s the Colombian equivalent of the term “like taking candy from a baby.”  You are making it exceptionally easy for a criminal to target you when you “dar papaya.”


That’s what the guy did when he flashed his money.  The sapos saw his post and informed the robbers.  The robbers thought he was an easy target.  He gave them some papaya.  They took it and ran.



The next time you post on social media, think about the toads.  Don’t give them any papaya.




Transportation Strikes

Transportation Strikes 700 394 Greg Ellifritz

If you travel in the developing world, you’ll know that taxi and transportation strikes are stunningly common.  Have you prepared for one?  These travelers had to walk more than two miles from the airport to a location that wasn’t blockaded by striking taxi drivers in order to get to their hotels.  Can you carry your bags that far?  If not, you overpacked.


When I travel, I carry the Osprey Sojourner as my luggage.  It has very sturdy wheels as well as a set of hidden backpack straps and a hip belt in the event I am on rough terrain where the wheels won’t roll.


It’s not cheap, but it’s bulletproof and I can hike with it if necessary.

Brazilian tourist dies in taxi drivers’ blockade of Chilean airport

Bribery in Bangladesh

Bribery in Bangladesh 336 68 Greg Ellifritz

An article that explains the basis for some of the third world police corruption that you’ll see if you travel. Americans get all worked up over this, but I suggest you deal with it like the locals. Try to avoid the cops at all costs. If accosted, give a small bribe.

It’s important to know what the local bribery rate is so you don’t get overcharged as a foreigner. I find this information out by asking my first taxi driver. “Are the police corrupt here?” Inevitably, they will answer “yes.” My next question is “How much money do they ask for if you are stopped?” Taxi drivers know the drill and will give you the information you need.

Most of the time it’s easier just to give up the $5-$20 rather than fight or argue with the cop for hours and risk the chance of getting arrested if he plants some drugs in your car or on your person.


How The Police Make Money In Bangladesh (And Most Other Countries)