Drug dealers turn to tech — and emojis — as they try to snare young customers, DEA says

by Jonathan Choe, KOMO News reporter

Federal law enforcement officials say drug dealers are turning to technology to lure new customers to their illegal narcotics operations.

The criminals are reaching out to potential customers through social media and emojis to build their clientele.

Sam Louie, a parent, said he had no idea that drug dealers have become so resourceful as they look to push illegal drugs online and to anyone with a smart phone.

“I was totally clueless (and) had no idea this even existed,” he said. “These could be anything my kid is used to. Super Mario Brothers, Dragons. These are all innocuous and innocent looking emojis (that) I would not give a second thought to.”

Frank Tarentino, the special agent in charge with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Seattle office, said parents should be speaking to their children about the dangers.

“It’s almost like a cryptic language these drug trafficking networks are using,” he said. “You have to have the conversation with your children.”

Tarentino said a reference guide has been created that aims to raise awareness for parents, caregivers, educators and social media companies about how drug dealers are using social media and technology to reach underage customers.

“They’re getting more and more successful in terms of spreading out their different platforms and expanding their network,” he said.

The DEA and law enforcement partners nationwide recently seized thousands of pounds of fentanyl and millions of fake prescription pills. Many cases involved drug traffickers using some of the most popular social media platforms to draw in customers, including Tik Tok, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Groups that work to curb drug use said they are having a hard time keeping up with the new approaches.

“I think we’re having some difficulty really trying to understand,” said Bonnie Wang, who works with WAPI Community Services.

“We’re working on advocacy, (and) getting funding so we can do a lot more prevention work,” she said.

Others acknowledge the new challenges they face.

“Social media has taken drug dealing to an entire different level,” says Pastor Lawrence Boles, who now leads Redeemed by the Blood Community Church of God in Christ in Kent but had sold drugs before he turned his life around.
Don’t expect that your kids are so good that they won’t fall victim to this.”

With the holiday break around the corner and more free time for his son, Louie says he now knows how to be on guard.

So if I do see these emojis, i can be more aware, have a conversation with him, and or other parents and children who may be impacted by this.


(Video provided in link above)

%d bloggers like this: