March 17, 2023 | 19:08
Eight US citizens have been kidnapped in Mexico over the past two months and at least two have been killed, leaving Americans to question how safe it is to drive south of the border.
In a horrific episode, four South Carolina residents were dragged from a minivan by cartel members in Matamoros, Mexico.
Two of them were executed and two others were found alive but terrified after a four-day search.
This week the FBI also offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the return of another US citizen, Maria del Carmen Lopez, who was kidnapped in Colima on February 9.
As the country embarks on spring break, The Post spoke with travel experts to see what precautions people should take in order to enjoy a safe and stress-free trip to Mexico.
Do your research
Travel safety expert Kevin Coffey said any American traveling to our southern neighbor should do plenty of homework on safety and security in the local area they plan to visit before they travel.
“The average person spends hours and hours researching where they’re going to go and what they’re going to do — very few people spend that time looking at danger,” said Coffey, who spent years with the LAPD investigating travel crimes.
“Once you leave the United States, you should know a little bit about where you’re going.
“If you don’t, sometimes, you end up in the wrong place.”
Coffey considers the State Department website, which contains information specific to Mexico and destinations in the country, the most important resource for Americans.
Regions will be designated at different levels of risk from Level 1 – meaning normal precautions should be taken – to Level 4 or a bold “do not travel” warning.
“Each person is going to have a different level of risk they’re comfortable with,” he added — without wanting to make a blanket statement about whether it was safe to travel there.
If you decide to go, you should register at the US Embassy closest to your destination through the Smart Traveler Registration Program, Coffey urged.
Benefits of free registration include updates on security conditions at your destination or contacting you in the event of a natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency, the website said.
Get an international phone plan
Anyone going to Mexico is advised to sign up for an international phone plan so their phone will work while they are there.
That way, if an emergency happens, you can use your device to call loved ones, emergency services, or share your location with others at home and receive a call or text from the State Department in an emergency.
Retired detective Coffey also recommends apps like GeoSure, which warn travelers of dangerous areas while they’re exploring a city.
“Nothing is perfect, nothing will keep you completely safe, but it’s better than nothing,” he said.
Don’t look like a tourist
Another piece of advice Coffey gave was to avoid looking like a tourist or becoming an obvious target by wearing expensive watches or jewelry.
“Don’t wear college and sports team logos because there are people who are specifically looking for people to target, and that’s mostly for pickpocketing,” Coffey explained.
“That’s what thieves do, they target us by the way we look.”
Will they kidnap me?
The entire US-Mexico border south of the international border is ranked as having an “extreme” possibility of kidnapping, according to a risk prediction map from Crisis24, a global security firm whose employees include former military and CIA officials- s.
All of Mexico ranks as “high,” the second most dangerous level, but the border, Central Mexico and a region along the Gulf of Mexico are classified as “extreme” — the highest threat, the firm told The Post.
“In addition to the frequency of kidnappings, we also take into account local authorities and how likely they are to respond to a kidnapping or crime,” Crisis24 intelligence analyst Daniel Saenz explained of how the countries are labeled on the map.
Popular tourist destinations like Cancun and Cabo San Lucas are in regions of the country that are still considered safest, according to a recent travel warning from the US government.
However, the security company stressed that in general kidnappings of US citizens are not common, as cartels and organized gangs do not like the heat it brings.
“Such attacks on Americans are rare because the last thing the cartels want is attention from US law enforcement,” the security analyst explained.
“We don’t expect incidents like this to be on the rise.”
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