The strategy employed by a cartel to recruit teenagers through a video game was explained at President López Obrador’s Wednesday morning news conference where, for the second time this week, the president warned of the dangers of allowing children to play with Nintendo games.
Three 11 to 14-year-old boys were rescued on October 9 in Oaxaca after being taken hostage by affiliates of the Tamaulipas based Northeast Cartel. They had been lured by offers of lucrative work via the shooter video game Free Fire.
The cartel planned to send the boys from Tlacolula de Matamoros, about 30 kilometers from Oaxaca city, to Monterrey, Nuevo León, to employ them as “hawks,” or cartel lookouts. One of the boys left a letter to his parents telling them not to worry because he had gone to work in Monterrey and would send lots of money.
Deputy Security Minister Ricardo Mejía Berdeja explained the pertinence of the case. “This case is important … it intertwines the virtual world with the real world because criminals carried out their criminal activities through online multiplayer games and social networks,” he said.
Mejía detailed how the events unfolded: a cartel affiliate acting under the name “Rafael” communicated with one of the youths through Free Fire in August. He pretended to be the same age and to share the same interests. The youth added him on Facebook, and later gave him his cell phone number.
After the pair continued to communicate through Facebook and WhatsApp “Rafael” offered the youth 8,000 pesos per fortnight (about US $400) to work as a hawk in Monterrey. He credited the offer with the youth’s obvious fondness for weapons, and assured him that he would earn a lot of money.
The youth accepted the offer and invited two school friends to join him, informing “Rafael” that they would like to replicate the deal. They were told to contact a woman and were sent money for their bus tickets to Oaxaca city.
On arrival, they were bought bus tickets with false identity numbers and taken to an address in the east of Oaxaca city, where they were later rescued.
Mejía provided a warning, due to the ease with which Free Fire can be accessed: “It is … downloaded from any mobile device for free and has a high content of violence … currently this game has 80 million users worldwide … without any real restrictions.”
He added that the internet offers a host of dangers, which need to be negotiated. “These are the risks of the internet, the accessibility to a series of platforms without any control … criminal infiltration, the attempted recruitment or recruitment, imposing stereotypes such as narcoculture, addiction to easy money, overvaluation of economic capacity, normalization of violence, bullying, xenophobia, the risk of cyberbullying, early sexualization, anxiety disorders and neuropsychiatric implications,” he said.
President López Obrador criticized parents for entertaining their children with Nintendo and other video games, warning exposure to them could lead to violence and calling them harmful.
Mexico News Daily