How groomers target children online
Organised crime groups use social media to endorse and advertise drugs, promoting a superficially glamorous gangster lifestyle.
Encrypted platforms can hide illegal activity. However, this activity might operate in plain sight by using hashtags and emojis as code for drug, violence and sexual activities. Children learn the ‘language’ then know how to easily purchase drugs.
Additionally, the apparent anonymity of the internet might encourage children to believe that buying and selling drugs in this way is low risk.
OCGs might use automated chatbots to engage with children but are more likely to use real accounts operated on behalf of the OCG. Groomers find contacting children this way fairly easy. In this way, they can contact large numbers of children at a minimal cost.
And the low risk of the initial engagement means that groomers can target multiple potential victims simultaneously.
Online video games
OCGs may use the chat function of online games and newer platforms linked to the emerging metaverse. They offer opportunities for OCGs to exploit largely unmoderated open-world gaming and social contact environments. This gives them the opportunity to engage with children and develop an online drugs marketplace.
The exploitation model is one populated by profiles of real children rather than fake accounts that adults manage. Coupled with the anonymity of the virtual world, the model is difficult for children to recognise or resist.
OCGs are also developing e-commerce techniques and technology to develop drug supply chains.
Selling drugs online offers a low-cost distribution method that removes some of the risks associated with face-to-face sale of drugs, such as conflict with rival dealers or arrest.
The county lines model is associated with mobile phone lines. However, affordable contract-free smartphones are replacing disposable pay-as-you-go phones. The contract-free smartphones offer communication with more affluent users of recreational drugs via social media and networking platforms.
Technology also offers payment for drugs via cash apps and mobile payment services. Because of the additional layer of security associated with these methods, they might be more attractive for OCGs as they prevent the loss or theft of cash proceeds.
Encrypted messaging applications provide a cheap and secure means of communication and reduce the risk of police intervention. Additionally, the decentralised nature of social media and messaging platforms could make it more difficult for the police to access data records. Some messaging apps don’t even retain any data, which creates a further challenge for law enforcement.