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Social Media: Minimizing risk exposure and the potential impact of carelessness.

Minimizing risk can come in various forms and it doesn't just apply to those who have an actual direct threat against them, rather, threats and risks can arise through the car you drive, the home you live in, or in the manner in which people conduct themselves and sometimes a seemingly casual conversation, which is overheard in a public environment. An alarming trend with this is developing through the fashionable use of social media sites and apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and snapchat, where images, tweets and posts often seem innocent enough, but they can be global within minutes. The Parent may be a well-known celebrity or successful business executive but inevitably with money comes fame and then of course exposure to risk.

Some people wish to continue to promote a high public profile; others may want to keep as low profile as possible. Whatever the preference, personal safety and security is usually paramount and all of this could go out of the window when 16 year old Joshua put's a "Yo dudes, check me out going on my Dad's Gulfstream, party time, lol!!" message on Facebook. Or when young Sarah put's a picture of her enjoying first class travel on a commercial flight with "Traveling in style, #Londonherewecome, #Dorchesterhotel". So how can the bad guys gain from this?

Let's look at Joshua. We know Joshua's surname through his Facebook page as it's open for all to see, a quick search on Google, "Joshua Smith's Father" and it wont be hard to piece it together. Joshua's Father is the CEO of a major investment company, he's a billionaire and has attracted a lot of media interest, but he has also fought to maintain a fairly low profile lifestyle, he's just a rich guy with a family. Joshua took the photo of himself on Facebook with his Dad's Gulfstream behind him; but the tail number of the aircraft was visible for all to see. With the technology and websites available today, it's not too difficult to follow this up and a whole host of information will usually pop up, I say usually as some private jet owners are now reverting to more secure ways of withholding their aircraft information, though with charters they mainly continue to be open source.

Joshua's Dad's plane is now showing to be en route to Anguilla in the Caribbean. Ok, it's beautiful, and I've been a number of times with various families taking vacations, but it's a small island, with low level security, and at least one known rich family with a careless or unsuspecting son, has disclosed to let's say 1000 potential "friends" and whoever else wants to access his page, where they are going to be this week, all of this equals one thing, elevated risk for the family.

If you can afford your own plane then it's a safe bet you'll be staying in one of the islands best hotels, so another Google search tells me that there are four to choose from, Cap Juluca, where I've been fortunate to stay during each of my visits, Cuisinart Golf Resort & Spa, Viceroy, and the Malliouhana Hotel & Spa. Now all of this is relevant if the bad guys want to take action with the information they've found. If they do, you've now got the bad guys flying into Anguilla with a handful of information, including what Joshua looks like. It wouldn't be too difficult to find him as they could simply and casually go to each of the resorts, all of them being close to each other, and small. They blend in, they have lunch on the terrace, and they lie on the beach and mingle with other guests. It's on the off chance that they'll locate Joshua and his family, but they believe the risk is worth it to them, and their chances are good.

Only one day after the bad guys arrive, they get a visual on Joshua who looks as though he's heading to the gym at the hotel, he wasn't hard to identify, as they had his profile picture from Facebook and yes, he's wearing expensive jewelry. They decide to continue about their day by mingling at the hotel and now they know where he is, Joshua can wait a little while longer. The bad guys run through their plan, they have a couple of rented cars, they've got themselves a room in a motel on the other side of the island, and they now know where their target is. One of them checks into the resort so he can gather more information, determine the pattern, what time does he go to and from the gym, what does he do during the day, and who is he here with, and by the way there is no family security.

Five days into the trip and Joshua is up early as always and heading to the gym, that was easy to know as the bad guy who checked in learned that he was staying in villa 310, he simply asked for a room in that part of the resort and got it. It was early morning with minimal people around, he made a phone call to his colleagues, it was time to strike. As Joshua walked back from the gym along the lane, a car pulled up alongside him, two friendly enough people, a man and a woman asking for directions, Joshua innocently obliged and suddenly he is bundled into the car. Within minutes they were out of the resort and heading to the other side of the island, it was ever so simple. The bad guys didn't bother with face masks or blindfolding Joshua, they knew what they wanted, money, and they didn't care that he knew what they looked like.

A short time after arriving at the motel room, Joshua, clearly distressed, made a call to his Father though he didn't get to speak to him as one of the kidnappers took over the phone. The deal was simple, they had his son, and the Father had 8 hours to fly back to mainland US on his private jet, collect $5 million dollars in cash, and return to the island. They would call him again in exactly 8 hours, ensuring minimal time for the Father to seek help, the message was very clear, if he wasn't back on the island with the cash in 8 hours, his son would be killed. The Father was desperate and paid the ransom, he neither had the time to seek help or a choice to negotiate, and thankfully, Joshua was left physically unharmed.

Think back - it all started because of one "innocent" photograph and comment posted on a social media site. Take for instance, photographs that have captions like: Money sure does taste good in Miami. Check me out on the Gulfstream, ready to party in Barbados! Living it up at the Palms. Big hands, big wallet, big car! It’s just not appropriate and could put the family in a dangerous situation.

So what can be done? - Well it's down to education, and awareness. Be AWARE, how the use of social media sites can expose you to potential risks if the information is seen by "other" people. Which could then be shared and shared, it doesn’t just stop at a select few.

  1. Refrain from posting unnecessary posts and pictures on social media sites. If you have say 1000 friends on Facebook for example, you're telling those 1000 people where you are and what you're doing. Think twice when you are about to add a comment or photo.

  2. Ensure outsiders don't have access to your information. This is where your privacy settings need to be checked and set accordingly.

  3. Don't disclose anything personal online, there's no need and it's a potential breach of you and your family's security and safety.

  4. Delete all of those who are not your family and close friends as this will reduce the risk of information falling into the wrong hands.

  5. Remain aware of your security at all times, it's just as important as anything else, without it the costs could be devastating to you and your family.

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If you would like to learn more or have questions about this topic, please contact us by emailing or by calling us at (+1) 212.796.2130 (New York) or (+44) 207.099.0860 (London). We are a consulting and management company who specialize in mitigating risk for families and Fortune 100 companies and would be delighted to speak with you further about how we can help you or your company.

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