by Janet Lan and Judy Silberstein
(November 14, 2002 ) Local residents traveling to South America beware: violent crime is rampant and visitors to and from the United States are being targeted. Colombia, country of origin for many local residents and employees, is of particular concern. This week, a Colombian national who often works in Larchmont returned to Bogotá for a funeral and fell victim to a kidnap for ransom scheme. However, last year, a Larchmont resident was kidnapped and robbed while traveling in La Paz, Bolivia.
Duval Serna was accosted in the Bogotá airport on Sunday, November 10 by a group of very well dressed women, according to his sister-in-law, Liliana Serna. The group first incapacitated him by spraying him with a drug-laced powder, and then robbed him of all his money and luggage. In addition, they required him to contact relatives to pay an $8,000 ransom. Told that her husband would be murdered if she did not comply, Serna’s wife wired the funds from the United States.
The good news is the kidnappers released Duval Serna on Tuesday and he is now back in this country. The bad news is the victim continues to suffer physical, psychological, and financial trauma.
On June 8, 2001 a young Larchmont man was abducted near a bus station in La Paz, Bolivia by a man claiming to be a police officer. The “officer” forced him and another “victim” into a car, drove them to a quiet spot, and relieved them of their airline tickets, bankcards and passports for a brief “review.” All documents and bankcards were immediately returned to the owners. The pair were then driven to an ATM and required to insert their bankcards into the ATM but no money was withdrawn at that time.
Back in the car, the “officer” accused the other “victim” of drug possession and threatened to arrest the Larchmonter as an associate of the drug possessor unless he revealed his bank PIN number. Feeling he had no alternative, the American revealed the number.
In this case, the good news was that the bogus police put the Larchmont man into a taxi and sent him back to the bus station. The bad news was discovered only later. Terrified and eager to leave Bolivia, the victim hopped a bus to Cuzco, Peru where he found that a total of $1600 had been taken from his accounts. Apparently, it took only that brief review period for the kidnappers to duplicate the bankcard.
According to the US State Department, the above experiences are not isolated. The Consular Travel Warning alerts visitors to Colombia and other South American countries of the various criminal dangers they might encounter. The alert mentions “Criminals sometimes use the drug “scopolamine” to incapacitate tourists in order to rob them.” It also mentions scams by bogus police officers and reports of 18 American citizens kidnapped in the last two years.
Janet Lan, MD, has lived in Larchmont for over 25 years.