Vile criminal gangs are said to be using the hit video game Fortnite to groom kids as young as 12 to become their drug mules.
The game uses virtual currency V-bucks, which players can spend on extras like costumes and moves.
And crooks exploit this by offering youngsters the online perks in return for delivering or storing drugs, it is claimed.
Matthew Norford, 38, is a former gang boss who works with children at risk of criminal exploitation in Manchester through his scheme 1Message.
He warns many are being hooked into the drug world through the game.
Matthew said: “It’s seen as cool to be playing with older guys from the local area.
"Some like the thrill. They like the organisation and being part of it.”
He told how one 12-year-old was groomed by a dealer who persuaded him to store £80 packs of marijuana in his bedroom.
Matthew said: “I’m very worried he’s going to start selling the drugs himself but what can I do when I’ve only got contact with him once or twice a week?
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“This drug dealer has got a hold of him, buying him the things on the game his parents can’t afford while they play all hours of the night.”
Fortnite has an age limit of 12 and V-bucks cost about £8 for a thousand.
Most of the items you can buy cost between £7 and £16. But some rare Fortnite accounts have made thousands on eBay.
Iryna Pona, policy manager at The Children’s Society, said online grooming for criminal purposes has increased over the past year, adding: “Safeguarding children online is everyone’s responsibility – including game developers.”
Epic Games, the publisher of Fortnite, said it worked with “law enforcement to take action” and that parents could disable chat and friend requests.
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