REPORTED BY JENNIE TAER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER | June 21, 2022
Mexican cartels are luring young gamers with large sums of cash to scout the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Telemundo. There have been at least 30 cases of such recruitment attempts on video games, Telemundo reported, citing the Mexican cyber police. The cartels often message players who are online at times their parents are likely not around to start coaxing them, using terms like ‘n4arc0’, ‘c4rt3l’ or ‘zic4ri0s’ to bypass potential blocks on the games.
“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,” Director of the Cyber Police in Oaxaca Mauricio Valdez told Telemundo.
Ernesto, a 13-year-old gamer, was recruited to keep watch of the border, according to Telemundo. He and his friends were recruited by a man who went by the name Moreno, who also played the video game with them and later talked with them on WhatsApp. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: DEA Officials Directed To Stop Saying ‘Mexican Cartel’) They later discovered Moreno was a member of the Northeast cartel, who offered the group of kids between the ages of 11 and 14 $800 a month to move from Oaxaca to Monterrey to work as cartel scouts, according to Telemundo. Their jobs would be to notify the cartel bosses to the presence of law enforcement at the border. If they succeeded in that task, the group could go on to sell drugs, Moreno promised, according to Telemundo.
“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. 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 said.
After Ernesto disappeared to Monterrey, his mother notified authorities and began searching for him, Telemundo reported. He was later rescued by police, who arrested one woman involved in the operation.
The Northeast cartel, also known as Cartel Del Noreste, was formed from the los Zetas cartel and is known for the trafficking of guns and drugs, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Facebook, the parent company for WhatsApp, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) didn’t respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.