Cartels use TikTok, Snapchat to recruit people smugglers
Cartels are using stacks of cash, encrypted messages and the lure of making thousands of dollars in a day posting on TikTok to recruit drivers from across the country to travel to the US border and ferry illegal immigrants, law enforcement officials told The Post .
An Indiana driver was recruited this way and promised $3,000 per immigrant he could bring from a Texas border town to San Antonio, said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Lt. Chris Olivarez.
“They don’t just come out and say we need a driver to smuggle people,” Lt. Chris Olivarez, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, told The Post. “You’ll have a little catchy phrase, like ‘Driver wanted: Direct message me.’
And then they show pictures of stacks of money, and then they show some pictures of people getting smuggled in. They won’t come out and say we need a driver for smuggling, but just from the pictures we know it’s linked to criminal activity.”
Olivarez personally saw a TikTok video that promised a $7,000 payday to any driver willing to take a ride from the state’s Rio Grande Valley to Houston.
“When you see those stacks of money, it’s very tempting, especially when you’re getting $2,000 to $3,000 a person.”
Drivers from across the country and from big Texas cities like Dallas and Houston travel to small border towns like Del Rio and Eagle Pass to smuggle immigrants north. Police officers arrested a woman from a Fort Worth suburb who was smuggling immigrants with her 1-year-old baby for the ride.
“Let me get my baby out,” the woman asked when she was arrested, according to a Video shared by DPS.
She was charged with smuggling and endangering a child, DPS said.
To navigate unfamiliar roads, cartels use an app that is untraceable to law enforcement.
“They use WhatsApp to send GPS coordinates because it’s encrypted,” Olivarez said. “You’re going to go to this area and pick up these people here and you’re going to transport them to — the majority going to San Antonio. This is the drop off point.[Von]San Antonio they get smuggled further out – that was always the drop off spot.”[From}SanAntoniotheygetsmuggledfurtherout–it’alwaysbeenthedropoffspot”[From}SanAntoniotheygetsmuggledfurtherout–it’salwaysbeenthedropoffspot”
Recruiting unknown drivers involves a degree of risk. Young and inexperienced drivers often panic when they encounter law enforcement. The Indiana man led authorities on a high-speed chase before crashing and losing all the immigrants his car. He ended up in jail and without money.
Any compromised driver is easily replaceable as the internet has opened up an untapped source of recruitment.
“The fact that they use social media as a recruiting tool is why we see so many people smuggling cases,” Olivarez said. “It’s gone up drastically just because they’re now able to recruit through social media.”