Cartel Hijacks Internet and Threatens Residents for Not Using It

( – Mexico’s infamous cartels are best known for selling drugs, but they won’t turn down any chance to illegally make money. State prosecutors have now revealed that one of the gangs took over local internet services — and threatened to kill customers who wouldn’t pay their inflated prices.

On January 3, prosecutors in the central Mexican state of Michoacan accused a local cartel of setting up an internet service using illegal wireless towers, then telling locals they had to use the gang’s service — and pay the gang’s high prices. Cartel enforcers told terrified customers that if they didn’t use the illicit connection and pay up, they risked being murdered. Up to 5,000 people are believed to have been affected, and with the gang charging 400-500 pesos a month (around $30) for the service, that could have netted up to $150,000.

While prosecutors didn’t name the gang because the case is still under investigation, they did confirm that the Los Viagras cartel is the main gang operating in the area — but local media were reluctant to blame it for the scam. For now, the extortion racket seems to have been shut down. In late December, police seized the radio equipment the cartel was using for its WiFi service. However, it’s likely other cartels will try similar rackets.

The gangs have been setting up their own wireless internet services for years, to allow them to communicate without messages going through official networks that police can monitor. Forcing locals to pay them for internet access is an obvious way to boost their earnings.

Security analyst Falko Ernst says the cartels are “not solely about drugs anymore.” Instead, he says, they’re looking at seizing control of territory and using it to make money in diverse ways. He said some cartels are charging unofficial “taxes” on food and other products, and are also taking control of local industries. Mexicans aren’t happy at the cartels’ constant demands for money, but faced with the violence used by the gangs many of them will pay up.

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