Drug deals via apps: APD says dealers are using Telegram

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — First, it was Myspace, then Facebook, then Snapchat, and now APD leaders say drug dealers are using Telegram to sell drugs in New Mexico.

APD Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock warned about the app during a first-of-its-kind summit on the fentanyl crisis Thursday.

“I’ll warn you guys right now, the app we’re seeing is now Telegram,” he said.

Telegram is not a new app. It was launched in 2013 and has since gained more than 500 million global users. Law enforcement agencies say the app is only just now gaining popularity in the United States.

The cloud-based messaging app is similar to popular Whatsapp, but Telegram is focused more on large group chats. Telegram offers end-to-end encryption which blocks third parties from viewing messages in chatrooms. Hartsock suggests those privacy features are making it easier to buy and sell illegal drugs – including fentanyl.

“They might display pictures of it, videos of it, price list of it, and then they’re going to set the whole drug deal up over the app,” he said.

Hartsock also revealed the app has been linked to other violent crimes in Albuquerque, including a homicide and child exploitation.

During a panel Thursday, Hartsock revealed the app is not subject to a legal order or search warrants because it is not based in the U.S. He also noted the app is not designed for criminal activity. The app’s terms of service prohibit the promotion of violence, but Hartsock says social media companies don’t always police themselves.

“On paper, they’re against it. Are they always empowered to completely stop it? No, not necessarily,” he said.

When it comes to kids, Hartsock says the app is no more dangerous than other social media platforms – including Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.

“Don’t get so focused on Telegram,” he said. “Be focused on any medium kids are using. That medium could be the bus stop, by the way.”

Hartsock recommends parents expose themselves to the same media platforms their kids are using. He says he regularly messages his own kids on Snapchat to better understand how they’re using the app.

“Don’t criminalize the phone or the app,” Hartsock said. “Know your kids better, and gain their trust and talk to him about these things, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

KOB 4 reached out to Telegram for a comment on this story. We have not received a response back.