Fast payment technology threatened by ‘lightning kidnappings’
October 2021: The constant development of technology not only makes life easier and more comfortable, but also creates new challenges for law enforcement and security professionals. Criminals use technology too, and profit from it as well. Lina Kolesnikova investigates how they are doing so in Brazil.
Last year, Brazil launched a PIX digital payments system, intended to improve traditional banks’ slow and costly services. More than a hundred million Brazilians started to use the platform for payments and transferring cash. This was digitalisation and innovation at its best.
However, this September, Brazil's Central Bank imposed spending limits on the PIX instant payments platform in the face of a sharp increase in: "Lightning or express kidnappings.” São Paulo has seen a 40 per cent rise in this type of crime. People are literally grabbed on the streets and forced to transfer money in exchange for their release. It is believed that the rapid payments provided by the new platform played a role in this sharp increase in incidents.
Sequestro relâmpago – Portuguese for lightning kidnapping – is a type of criminal violence that has affected Latin America since the mid-90s and is also known as secuestro expresso – express kidnapping. Generally, they involve kidnapping for robbery. The term ‘express’, or ‘lightning’, takes its name from the crime's speed, lack of infrastructure (criminals usually use cars to hold a person captive) and the random selection of victims. Victims are of all ages and social classes. Although the abductions often occur while the victims are driving, gangs can also target people in their homes, at workplaces or near schools and universities. While being held in temporary captivity, victims are forced to withdraw or transfer money, buy something or their property and/or their vehicle are taken away by the captors.
A lot of thought is now given to the new technologies and paradigms such as AI and robotics. The ethical, political, economic and security balance remains to be found. But should we broaden this consideration to include all different and seemingly safe, innovative and progress-orientated digital services? The case of Fast Payments and lightning kidnappings in Brazil strongly suggests that we must, as it might be that every ‘good thing’ sold to us by innovators and pioneers of progress, might also have a ‘bad side’ to it.
Do not be blindly attracted by the bright lights and sweet sounds of innovation; be responsible and consider different sides and possible effects. The innovation and technological progress are our current best hope for a better life going forward. Let us take care of our future by balancing different considerations, ethical ones included, prior to putting decisions into practice.