Narcotics police forces go online as Drug Cartels turn to video games for mules, members and customers

Drug cartels are routinely using online games like ‘Grand Theft Auto: Online’ and ‘World of Warcraft’ provide a perfect cover for cartels to discreetly sell drugs or recruit personnel. As a result, some police forces around the world, now have dedicated gaming squads

Law enforcement agencies around the world are enhancing their video game skills to combat cartels’ increasing use of online platforms for drug sales and recruitment, as per a report by news agency AFP.

The report quotes one Benjamin Shultz, a foreign malign influence analyst at Deloitte, saying that cartels have become highly tech-savvy, and are using platforms like X for wide-reaching engagement.

The Sinaloa Cartel, for example, once had an account on X with almost 200,000 followers that regularly posted content glorifying its activities. To address the growing role of online gaming in the drug trade, the Council of Europe’s Pompidou Group organized a forum in Mexico City on December 19 and 20.

Online games like “Grand Theft Auto” and “World of Warcraft” provide a perfect cover for cartels to discreetly sell drugs or recruit personnel. Shultz noted that the darknet, previously popular among cartels, has decreased in popularity due to improved law enforcement efforts, while video games offer untapped resources and are less monitored.

In online games, users can connect with almost anyone, and there are fewer controls on interactions. The internal messaging systems of these games are challenging to intercept, especially when traffickers use emoticons or emojis for communication, allowing them to have conversations without triggering attention.

Mexican police were among the first to observe this trend, with cases involving adolescents recruited while playing games like “Garena Free Fire.” The recruits were offered $200 a week to act as lookouts in Mexico City.

While such transactions are more common on platforms like Instagram or Snapchat, the use of video games is not limited to a specific region.

Shultz and Thomas Kattau, deputy executive secretary of the Council of Europe’s Pompidou Group, emphasize the need for better education for parents and children about the risks associated with online games.

They also suggest that game developers reinforce protections, particularly by utilizing artificial intelligence to enhance surveillance software. The goal is to raise awareness among law enforcement and governments globally about this emerging phenomenon.

(With inputs from agencies)

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