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The Scary Way Criminals Are Using GTA 5

There's a certain seedy allure to the "Grand Theft Auto" series. Sure, it's a fun game absolutely filled with larger than life characters, but there's something beyond that. In a lot of ways, "GTA" games let players vicariously lead the life of a criminal. The "GTA" games have made players do some bad things over the years, and "Grand Theft Auto" roleplay has become its very own sub-genre, inspiring players to take their love of the game to an even more dedicated level. But long as it's all just a video game, then everything's all good — right? Well, it seems that real life criminals have learned to tap into players' desires to live the hustle and are recruiting through "GTA 5."

While previous "Grand Theft Auto" games were entirely single-player experiences, but "Grand Theft Auto Online" has risen to become one of the most popular and persistent multiplayer games. Players are able to load into a version of Los Santos that's populated by both NPCs and other players; completing missions, exploring and committing crimes as they see fit. However, most players don't realize that actual drug cartels have recruiters logging in alongside them, waiting for the right kind of over-zealous player who might want to take on a real-life job. In fact, that very thing has led to a number of criminal investigations — and at least one arrest — within just the last year.

Here's how criminals are using "GTA 5" to recruit players for the purpose of committing crimes.

Drug cartels are playing video games, too

Unfortunately, he cartels' use of players unfortunately isn't a new concept. Last year, Mexican police reported several instances of minors being recruited to commit crimes through popular video games. According to a report from Bloomberg, authorities intercepted three minors on a bus, discovering they'd been contacted through the mobile game "Free Fire" with the promise of work. 

In a statement regarding the incident, Deputy Security Chief Ricardo Mejia explained, "This case was with a mobile video game, but it can be done through PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo Switch consoles. Anonymous subjects enter into contact via Internet because they can play online, and that's what starts the process of communication, persuasion, and recruitment."

At the time, law enforcement believed the issue to be widespread enough to warrant a bit of extra parental concern, but a lack of actionable evidence left their hands tied. It seems that this troubling trend has only persisted, however, as a new report from Forbes has recounted a similar occurrence from November 2021. 

Drug-runners recruiting through GTA 5

According to Forbes, which has recently uncovered details of the case from last November, Arizona's Border Protection officials found almost 60kg of methamphetamine in the jeep of a woman named Alyssa Navarro. When questioned about the drugs, Navarro admitted to accepting a job from someone on "GTA Online," who ordered them to deliver the vehicle from Mexico. The contact Navarro made through the game, "George," told Navarro where and when to make their stops, but told the driver they were delivering electronics. All she had to do was stop at specific gas stations on her way. 

Navarro claims there were doubts about the whole thing, occasionally stopping and asking herself if she was really going to go through with it. However, she ultimately decided that a $2000 payout for a simple-sounding drive seemed too good to pass up. Upon searching the vehicle, authorities discovered the drugs hidden in the vehicle's gas tank.

Alyssa Navarro has been charged on more than one count of possession and intent to distribute methamphetamine. Forbes reports that she has pleaded not guilty to these charges, but the case has not yet been resolved and the Department of Justice turned down Forbes' requests for comment.

Eerily, the entire situation feels like it could be something right out of a "Grand Theft Auto" mission. A mysterious contact offers high-paying, easy work with some suspicious details baked in? A late-game reveal that the cargo being smuggled is much more illicit than the driver was led to believe? It's like the set-up to meet a new mission-handler in the game — only this is real life, and your Wanted stars don't just go away.