Posted Monday, December 22nd 2014 @ 1pm

Even as the extreme and wanton violence of the drug cartels in northern Mexico, which several years ago made cities like Juarez and Matamoros the most violent places in the world, continues to wane, a new threat is emerging--kidnappings for ransom.

Officials tell News Radio 1200 WOAI that nearly 200 American citizens were kidnapped for ransom in Mexico in the past year, with many of the kidnapping taking place in Tamaulipas, the state just across the border from the Rio Grande Valley.

With the cartels' drug smuggling business being crippled by tighter border security and legalization, and human smuggling on the decline, FBI Special Agent Michelle Lee in San Antonio says the drug gangs are turning to kidnapping Americans, seeing it as a 'new source of revenue.'

"This is simply diversification," Lee says. "Another portfolio, so to speak."

Lee says the number of kidnappings for ransom in Mexico has skyrocketed as the profits from drug smuggling and other illegal activities continue to fall. She says only 26 Americans were kidnapped in Mexico in 2006, but in 2014, the agency has had reports of 199 cases.

"There is a significant increase when you track the numbers that we had accounted for previously," she told News Radio 1200 WOAI.

Lee says most kidnappings of Americans for ransom in Mexico are pretty straightforward. The person is kidnapped, and the family gets a demand for a cash ransom.

She says in some of the kidnappings, the victim is involved in the drug trade, but in a disturbing number of them, the victim is an American who is in Mexico to shop, visit friends or family, or as a tourist.

Experts say while kidnapping for ransom is a very rare crime in the United States, where law enforcement is not corrupt and police have very reliable methods of tracking and arresting the kidnapper, it is a fairly common practice not just in Mexico, but in other similar countries.

"It of course is something that takes place throughout the world, and Mexico is not the only country that is experiencing this at this time," Lee said.

She says as the drug cartels get 'more and more desperate' as their main sources of revenue are taken away, look for American kidnapping victims to become an increasingly lucrative source of cash for the drug gangs.