March 17, 2023 | 7:08 p.m
Eight U.S. citizens have been kidnapped in Mexico in the past two months, and at least two have been killed, leaving Americans questioning how safe it is to travel south of the border.
In one terrifying episode, four South Carolina residents are dragged from a minivan by cartel members in Matamoros, Mexico.
Two of them were killed and the other two were found alive but terrified after a four-day search.
This week, the FBI offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the return of another American, Maria del Carmen Lopez, who was abducted in Colima on February 9.
As the country heads into spring break, The Post spoke to travel experts about what precautions people should take to enjoy a safe and stress-free trip to Mexico.
Do your research
Travel safety expert Kevin Coffey says any American traveling to our neighbor to the south should do a lot of homework on the safety and security of the area they plan to visit.
“The average person spends hours and hours researching where they’re going and what they’re doing — very few people spend their time looking at risk,” said Coffey, who spent years investigating travel crimes with the LAPD.
“Once you leave the United States, you have to know a little bit about where you’re going.
“If you don’t, sometimes, you go to the wrong place.”
Coffey considers the State Department’s website, which contains specific information about Mexico and destinations in the country, to be the most important resource for Americans.
Regions are assigned different levels of risk, from level 1 – meaning take normal precautions – to level 4, or a bold “do not travel” warning.
“Everybody will have a different level of risk that they’re comfortable with,” he added — without making a clear statement about whether it’s safe to travel there.
If you decide to go, you should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at the U.S. Embassy closest to your destination, Coffey urges.
Benefits of the free registration include improving security conditions in your destination or contacting you in the event of a natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency, the website states.
Get an international phone plan
Anyone traveling to Mexico is advised to sign up for an international phone plan so their phone will work while they are there.
This way, in the event of an emergency, you can use your device to call loved ones, emergency services, or share your location with others and receive a call or text from the State Department in an emergency.
Coffey, a retired detective, recommends apps like GeoSur, which warn travelers of dangerous areas as they explore 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 gives is to avoid looking like a tourist or making yourself a conspicuous target by wearing expensive watches or jewelry.
“Don’t wear college logos and sports teams because there are people who want to specifically target people, mainly to pickpocket,” Coffey said.
“That’s what thieves do, they target us for what we look like.”
Are you going to choke?
The US-Mexico border, south of the international border, is rated as having an “extreme” risk of hijacking, according to a risk forecast map by Crisis24, a global security organization staffed by former military and CIA officials.
Mexico’s overall rating is “high,” the second most dangerous level, but the border, central Mexico and a region on the Gulf of Mexico are classified as “extreme,” the company told the Post.
“In addition to the frequency of kidnappings, we also take into account local authorities and how well they respond to abductions or crimes,” said Crisis24 data analyst Daniel Sanez, explaining how the countries are labeled on the map.
Popular tourist destinations such as Cancun and Cabo San Lucas are still in areas of the country that are considered safe, according to a recent US government travel warning.
But the security firm pointed out that it’s not common to kidnap US citizens in general; Because bandits and organized gangs don’t like the heat it brings on them.
“This kind of attack on Americans is rare because the last thing the cartels want is the attention of US law enforcement,” the security analyst said.
“We don’t expect incidents like this to increase.”