Drug cartels recruiting youths through video games, Mexican authorities warn

Border Report

A poster promoting Grand Theft Auto V is attached to a wall at the 8 Bit & Up video games shop in Manhattan’s East Village on September 18, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Drug cartels in Mexico are recruiting youths through contacts made on multiplayer online video games, officials said Wednesday.

Ricardo Mejía, Mexico’s assistant public safety secretary, said an apparent cartel recruiter had already bought bus tickets for three boys between the ages of 11 and 14.

He said the boys met the recruiter in the online game platform “Free Fire,” also known as “Garena Free Fire.” The recruiter promised the boys $200 per week to work in northern Mexico as drug cartel lookouts.

The boys were found before they could board the bus in the southern state of Oaxaca. Mejia said other cartels have operated in a similar way by contacting players through online games and game platform chats, including “Call of Duty,” “Gears of War” and “Grand Theft Auto V.”

While there have been documented cases of recruiting attempts over social media in the past, officials said violence-soaked online gaming platforms offer recruiters a targeted pool of youths: mainly male, young, fascinated by weapons and somewhat desensitized to killing, at least on a virtual level.

The first boy was contacted by the suspected recruiter in August, and later he told two of his friends, who also accepted the offer. In a message to the boys, the recruiter said they would like the job, “given that you like guns and you will make a lot of money.”

A woman, who was detained, bought them tickets to the northern city of Monterrey under false names.

Mejia did not name the cartel involved but said a similar case occurred in September with an attempt at online recruitment by the Cartel del Noreste, a remnant of the old Zetas cartel.

The recruiters apparently have enough technological sophistication to get around security algorithms on popular consoles.

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