1 in 10 companies faces extortion: what you can do to stop it
- 16 September 2021
- Edited 6 June 2023
- 3 min
- Managing and growing
- Secure business
1 in 10 business owners has been a victim of extortion at one time or another. Extortion is usually invisible to the outside world but has a massive impact on the victim and the people around them. There are different forms of extortion. Marc Janssen, spokesman for the Vertrouwenslijn, a confidential hotline, offers 3 tips on what to do if it happens to you.
Extortion is a form of theft in which the criminal uses force or intimidation to force you to pay money or deliver goods. They may threaten to commit physical violence or arson, for example. 10% of all business (in Dutch) in the Netherlands have faced extortion. “Extortion has a profound impact on the victims. It is a source of great financial and personal distress to entrepreneurs and their families”, Janssen says.
Janssen has 3 key tips for victims of extortion.
1. Do not pay
“Paying up or giving in to the criminal’s demands will probably will not stop the extortion.” They will know that their threats were effective and they may simply continue. “Never give into the culprit’s demands: do not pay!”
2. Call the Vertrouwenslijn
Entrepreneurs can call the (in Dutch), a confidential hotline, to report extortion or request advice. “The Vertrouwenslijn is staffed by a team of experienced confidential advisers who will offer a listening ear. They can also put you in touch with extortion experts working for the police. The experts at the Vertrouwenslijn will advise you on the best course of action and, if necessary, guide you through the process of reporting it.”
Janssen explains why it is so important for victims of extortion to act. An entrepreneur recently called the Vertrouwenslijn with the following story: “One of his employees, who had recently been let go, had not returned a company car yet. Instead of returning the car, he showed up to the entrepreneur’s place of business with a few henchmen and forced him to hand over money and the car at gunpoint. The following days, the criminals kept stalking the entrepreneur, following him to his home and his parents’ home. Not much later, they forced him to get into a car at gunpoint. They drove him to a phone shop, where they demanded that he buy two new iPhones with the company credit card. When they finally dropped him off at a train station, they demanded that he pay them €5000 within a few days. If he refused, they would burn down his parents’ home.
The business owner was terrified and refused to talk to the police. He called the Vertrouwenslijn and we put him in touch with a police expert.” Fortunately, this story had a happy ending, Janssen concludes. “The police and the entrepreneur came up with a plan to stop the extortionists. They eventually detained three people in possession of the iPhones, the company cars, and a firearm.”
3. Report it to the police
Janssen realises that people may be reluctant to go to the police. “Victims of extortion are often hesitant to report the perpetrator to the police out of shame or fear. Still, it is important to report extortion as soon as possible. This prevents the situation from snowballing and improves the odds that the culprit will be caught. Always report extortion to the (in Dutch) right away.”
Types of extortion
Entrepreneurs face many different types of extortion.
In protection extortion, criminals threaten to use physical force against the business owner or his staff. They may also threaten to damage business premises. In exchange for 'protection', the criminals demand money.
Janssen recounts the story of a restaurant owner who fell victim to protection extortion. “2 men showed up at the restaurant and handed him a letter that said: Crime is rampant, so we would like to tell you about the services offered by our consortium. Our services consist of protecting your property and employees for a fee of €150 per month. One of our people will come to collect the fee in person every month. If you refuse, we will be forced to notify our syndicate and show you why you need our services.” With this threat, the criminals effectively forced the entrepreneur to pay them. This form of extortion is most common in the retail and hospitality .
Personal extortion targets a specific individual, such as a business owner with a thriving business. This form of extortion is also known as blackmail. The culprit will usually demand money, goods, or services in exchange for withholding certain information. This information could consist of secret documents, photos, and videos that might damage your reputation or that of your company.
Product extortion is particularly common among large, wealthy companies. The culprits may threaten to poison a product and tarnish the company’s reputation, for example. The only way out is to pay. A few years ago, (in Dutch) fell victim to this type of extortion. The extortionists sent parcels filled with poison, threatening to poison the supermarket chain's products.
Cyber extortion is another word for digital extortion. Cybercriminals could use ransomware to lock or encrypt your computers, files, or network. Until you pay the ransom, you are completely locked out. Other cybercriminals might threaten to take down your company website or online shop with a DDoS attack. This involves firing so many requests for information at your site that your server breaks down because it cannot handle the traffic. Your site goes down as a result, causing you to lose sales and suffer reputational damage.
Platform for Safe Business
Want to work on local or regional safety and security issues with a group of partners? Consider joining the Platform Veilig (in Dutch) (Platform for Safe Business, PVO) in your area. These platforms organise events and training sessions for entrepreneurs. But they also support local initiatives to combat crime. There are ten PVO regions in the Netherlands. Through PVO, the police, the Dutch judiciary, municipalities, trade associations, and entrepreneurs have joined forces to foster a safe and secure environment for businesses, employees, and customers.