In Mexico, drug cartels also recruit via online video games

In Mexico, three children between 11 and 14 were recruited via an online mobile game to work 1,200 km from their hometown, most probably for drug traffickers.

Free fire game image
Free Fire, the online video game where 3 young Mexicans got recruited by a drug cartel | © Garena Free Fire

On October 20, during a monthly security update in Mexico with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Ricardo Meijía Berdeja, the undersecretary of public security relayed a human trafficking investigation case opened in Oaxaca and related to the video game Free Fire.

On October 9, three under-aged were rescued in Santa Lucía del Camino, a city in the Oaxaca metropolitan area in the south of Mexico. The three young boys, aged between 11 and 14, had been reported missing from their relatives.

They were supposed to leave to Monterrey, in the north of Mexico 1,200 km (746 miles) from Oaxaca, and most probably work for a drug cartel.

They got recruited via an online video game: Free Fire.

This online battle royale game similar to Fortnite can be easily downloaded on mobile for free. Fifty players fight against each others to become the last survivor on a desert island. In 2019, the game had more than 80 million users worldwide.

Last August, one of the children became friend with another player called “Rafael” through the game. They extended their friendship on Facebook. Few days later the boy gave his phone number to the criminal so that they could communicate on WhatsApp, too.

Rafael goes by the name Moreno on Facebook.

He then proposes a job to his new friend: stay on a hilltop in Monterrey, check radio frequencies and alert people if police show up.

For that job, he would get paid 8,000 pesos (US $384) twice a month. That’s almost 4 times as much as the minimum wage in Mexico.

The boy then mentioned the offer and invited two of his classmates, who accepted and wanted to do the same job and receive the same pay.

Found by police forces with Free Fire’s localization feature

On October 4, the boy meets two women at a bus station in Oaxaca and receive money as an advance payment of travel expenses.

On October 8, the three kids accept to take the trip the next day.

On the 9th, they leave their rural hometown of Tlacolula de Matamoros to Oaxaca and meet one of the women at the bus station, 40 km away from their breakout point. With a fake identity code, she buys tickets and brings them to a place in Santa Lucía del Camino.

As the boys were playing Free Fire and shared their location, police were able to find them, intervene before they left for Monterrey and arrest the woman, already charged with other criminal activities.

Both headquartered in Singapore, neither Garena, the game developer and publisher, nor SEA Ltd. the conglomerate owning Garena communicated about the issue.

The Free Fire terms of service explain that “players who have not reached the age of majority are required to seek parental consent before registering to play the game“. But the undersecretary of public security explained there is no restriction to download the game in app stores. Moreover, he stressed out that the issue could also happen with other games like Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty or social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram. Drug traffickers would use usernames like c4rt3l, sicari0s, for cartel and sicarios, or CJNG, CDN, which are acronyms for Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación and Cártel de Sinaloa.

A criminal investigation is open in Oaxaca for human trafficking in the form of labor exploitation.

Read more about Mexico

Conferencia de prensa del presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador del 20 de octubre de 2021, Mexican government, October 2021, Free accessSALARIOS MÍNIMOS 2021, Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare, Free access, PDF

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