Aon Launches UK Extortion Consulting with Police Expert

August 19, 2008

Aon announced from its London office that its Crisis Management Unit has hired the former senior investigating officer for multinational extortion at the British police to head up a new extortion consulting team. The decision came in the wake of “a rapid rise in the number of commercial extortion cases in the UK,” said Aon.

Sam Nicholls comes to Aon after 32 years within the major crime arena of the police. During this time he rose to become the National Coordinator of Operations for Domestic Extremism.

He noted the “rapid rise in commercial extortion activity in the UK” over the last few years, indicating that “between 2003 and 2006, there was an average of 23 cases reported each year. In 2007, that figure hit 40. In the past 12 months, there have been 67 recorded incidents.”

However, Nicholls believes the number of incidents is likely to be much higher. “There are no hard and fast figures of course, but it is believed a substantial number of commercial extortion cases go unreported,” he explained. “Companies want to avoid publicity and potential damage to their brand or reputation. Many will pay extortion demands to try and get rid of the problem quickly, though this approach often doesn’t solve the problem. Once an extortionist knows a firm will pay out they are likely to target that company again in the future.”

Craig Preston, director of crisis consulting at Aon, warned that you can’t predict where an attack might come from. “Extortionists may be terrorists, extremists, an organized crime group, a disgruntled employee seeking retribution or even a competitor trying to gain a greater market share,” he stated. “Common tactics include the threat to contaminate a product, bring down an online trading platform, harm personnel, reveal proprietary information or release customer data, such as bank account details – extortion can take many forms.”

Nicholls strongly advocates putting in place the right plans and procedures and then testing their effectiveness. “Forward planning is the key,” h” explained. “Companies should identify a response team, involving the right people with the right skill sets, and ensure that all the predictable decisions are made before something happens. A live crisis makes a very poor learning environment, and the correct response can make the difference between successfully managing the threat and serious damage to your brand and reputation.”

He also pointed out a common misunderstanding about the role of the police in an extortion incident. “There has to be a degree of reality in terms of the police’s role,” Nicholls explained. “They will proffer advice and guidance, but they will not take over and tell a company what to do. Decision making stays with the company – as do the consequences of those decisions.”

Preston added that Nicholls significant experience with extortion and extremism crimes from a police perspective is key to Aon’s new extortion consulting team. “We now have unrivalled subject matter expertise in this area,” he stated. “Having Sam’s in-depth knowledge, tied in with our consulting skill base and our experience in designing insurance programs that protect against the impact of these incidents means we can offer our clients distinctive value in what is a critical area.”

Source: Aon Corp. –