Drug deals via apps: According to APD, dealers use Telegram

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — 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 Thursday during a unique fentanyl crisis summit.

“I’ll warn you in a moment, the app we’re looking at is now Telegram,” he said.

Telegram is not a new app. It was launched in 2013 and has since gained more than 500 million users worldwide. Law enforcement officials say the app is just beginning to gain popularity in the United States.

The cloud-based messaging app is similar to the popular Whatsapp, but Telegram focuses more on large group chats. Telegram offers end-to-end encryption that prevents third parties from viewing messages in chat rooms. Hartsock suggests these privacy features make it easier to buy and sell illegal drugs — including fentanyl.

“They might show pictures of it, videos of it, a price list of it, and then they arrange the whole drug deal through the app,” he said.

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

During a panel on Thursday, Hartsock revealed that the app is not subject to any jurisdiction or search warrant because it is not based in the United States. He also noted that 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 aren’t always self-policing.

“On paper they are against it. Are they always empowered to stop it completely? 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 focus so much on Telegram,” he said. “Focus on any medium that children use. Incidentally, this medium could be the bus stop.”

Hartsock recommends parents expose themselves to the same media platforms their children use. He says he regularly sends his own kids messages on Snapchat to better understand how they use the app.

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

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

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