Benjamin Shultz

Disinformation & Artificial Intelligence Researcher

Curriculum vitae

Online Gaming Platforms: New Marketplaces for Drugs and Avenues of Recruitment

Ben collaborated with the Council of Europe International Cooperation Group on Drugs and Addiction (Pompidou Group) from 2022-2023 to research illicit drug transactions, organized crime recruitment, child exploitation, and financial crime taking place via online gaming and virtual reality (OGVR) platforms. This project has identified key trends around the use of OGVR platforms by organized crime groups and cartels and facilitated detailed criminal intelligence sharing with law enforcement and diplomatic officials from 40+ countries over the last two years. 

Detection of illicit activities is far more difficult on OGVR platforms than on social media or the darknet. For one, publicly available information cannot be 'scraped' from OGVR platforms in the way it can from, say, Instagram or X. Moreover, when initial contact between a criminal actor and a victim is made, the conversation is often immediately moved to more 'secure' venues, such as Signal or WhatsApp. Further complicating this picture, in-game currencies and artifacts have been used for both small-scale money laundering and as a form of payment in drug-related transactions. Dozens of cases of cartel recruitment, drug trafficking, child exploitation, and money laundering taking place via OGVR platforms have been publicly documented across the globe, and have been compiled into the Online Gaming Safety Incident Repository (linked above).
Ben's work around OGVR platforms and organized crime has been featured at multiple Council of Europe meetings and conferences, in the World Customs Organization's flagship Illicit Trade Report and RILO—WE Magazine, and in major news media outlets in seven languages, including NBC News, France24, and Forbes.
Inaugural Council of Europe Conference on Drug Control Networks, 8 December 2023 in Strasbourg, France

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