New reports claim that Mexican cartels are now turning to online video games to recruit potential new scouts for the southern border.
According to the Daily Caller, the Mexican cyber police claim that there have already been at least 30 confirmed cases of attempted recruitments on video games. Cartels are targeting gamers and bribing them with cash payments, using a careful assortment of letters and numbers to spell out key words without facing bans for using the words directly. For example, they will use “n4arc0” instead of “narcos,” “c4rt3ls,” instead of “cartels,” and “zic4ri0s” instead of “sicarios.” Such recruiters also wait for confirmation that the gamers are alone, without their parents nearby, before approaching them.
“We have identified a situation that is worrying us that girls, boys and adolescents are not denouncing these behaviors that are manifesting for fear of being scolded by their parents, of being exposed within society and being singled out,” said Oaxaca Mauricio Valdez, Director of the Cyber Police.
One example is Ernesto, a 13-year-old gamer who said he and another friend were recruited for this task by a man who went by the name Moreno. After initially approaching them during their gaming session, Moreno then messaged them on WhatsApp. Moreno, who was later discovered to be a member of the Northeast cartel, offered payments of $800 a month to kids between the ages of 11 and 14 to move to Monterrey so they could inform cartel bosses of where law enforcement was located along the border.
“He told us that they were going to put us in a tree or a mountain to see how many police or military officers were going there,” Ernesto said. “We were going to count how many went inside. They told me that after I was a scout they would promote me, and, when I was ready, they would teach me how to shoot.” Ernesto was reported missing by his mother after he first moved to Monterrey, with authorities eventually finding and rescuing him, arresting one woman who was involved in his recruitment.