Eight US nationals have been kidnapped in Mexico over the last two months, and at least two have been murdered, leaving Americans questioning just how safe heading south of the border is.
In one horrifying episode, four South Carolina residents were dragged out of a mini-van by cartel members in Matamoros, Mexico.
Two of them were executed and another two 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 national, Maria del Carmen Lopez, who was abducted in Colima on Feb. 9.
As the country launches into 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 security expert Kevin Coffey said any American traveling to our southern neighbor needs to do plenty of homework on safety and security in the local area they plan to visit before traveling.
“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 the time looking at risk,” stated Coffey, who spent years with LAPD investigating travel crimes.
“Once you leave the United States, you have to 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 specific information about Mexico and destinations in the country, the most important resource for Americans.
Regions will be designated at different danger levels from Level 1 — meaning exercise normal precautions — to Level 4 or a bold “do not travel” warning.
“Every person is going to have a different risk level that they are going to be comfortable with,” he added — without wanting to make a blanket statement about whether it was safe to travel there.
If you make the decision to go, you should register with the US Embassy closest to your destination through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
, Coffey urged.
Benefits of the free registration include updates on safety conditions in your destination or contact you in case of a natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency, the website states.
Get an International Phone Plan
Anyone going to Mexico is advised to enroll in an international phone plan so their phone works while they are there.
That way if an emergency does occur, you can use your device to call loved ones, emergency services or share your location with others back home and receive a call or message from the State Department in an emergency.
Retired detective Coffey also recommends apps like GeoSure, which alert travelers for dangerous areas as they’re exploring a city.
“Nothing is perfect, nothing is going to 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 not to look like a tourist or make yourself a conspicuous target by wearing expensive watches or jewelry.
“Don’t wear college logos and sports teams because there are people who are specifically looking for people to target, and that’s mainly for pickpocketing,” Coffey explained.
“That’s what thieves do, they target us by how we look.”
Will I be kidnapped?
The entire US-Mexico border south of the international boundary is ranked as having an “extreme” possibility of kidnapping, according to a risk forecast map by Crisis24, a global security firm whose employees include former military and CIA officials.
The entirety 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.
“Aside from frequency of kidnappings, we also take into account local authorities and how likely they are to respond to 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 still considered safer, according to a recent travel warning by the US government.
However, the security company pointed out that on the whole kidnappings of US nationals are not common, as cartels and organized gangs don’t like the heat it brings on them.
“Attacks on Americans like that are rare because the last thing cartels want is attention from US law enforcement,” the security analyst explained.
“We don’t expect incidents like this will be on the rise.”