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'Swipe left for meth': Florida officials using dating apps to try to find drug dealers

The Polk County Sheriff's Office said dozens are using LGBTQ dating apps and concealing their sales with emojis and code words.
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Dozens of people are accused of selling drugs on LGBTQ dating apps and concealing their sales with emojis and code words, authorities in Florida said Thursday.

Detectives with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office alleged that 52 people used three apps — Grindr, Scruff and Taimi — to sell methamphetamines, cocaine, fentanyl, marijuana and other drugs, the sheriff’s office said in a news release. 

Among the emojis that were used were ice cream cones and birthday cakes, Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters. The word “Tina” was used for meth, he said.

Marijuana was the most commonly sold drug, with investigators buying nearly a pound and a half through online sales, the sheriff’s office said. Meth, at 280 grams, was second. 

“When you would hit them up, swipe left for meth, you would talk to these folks — guess what?” Judd said. “They would offer to sell you drugs.”

Grindr, which describes itself as the world's largest social networking app for the LGBTQ community, saw more sales than the other two apps, the sheriff’s office said. 

In a statement, the company said that drug sales are strictly prohibited on the app. "Our moderation team works hard every day to ban bad actors while maintaining the privacy and security of our users," the statement said.

Users have previously accused the company of not doing enough to police illegal drug sales. A Grindr spokesperson told NBC News three years ago that the company “prohibits the promotion of drug use in user profiles” and encourages users to report “suspicious and threatening activities.”

A spokeswoman for Taimi said in an email Friday that the company does "its best to prevent any illegal or aggressive activity against users." Algorithms are used to block suspicious activities and moderation teams address complaints within 20 minutes, said the spokeswoman, Yana Andyol.

Andyol said the company hadn't previously heard from Judd's office, but after learning of his investigation Taimi will conduct an internal probe on app activity in Florida and elsewhere.

A spokesman for Scruff declined to comment.

The sheriff’s office said a tip in July prompted the investigation, dubbed “Swipe Left for Meth.” Detectives created undercover profiles and “found it was relatively easy to strike up conversations,” the sheriff’s office said.

“It was clear during the conversations and ensuing drug buys that the suspects' primary purposes for being on the dating app were to sell drugs — not to find a date,” the sheriff’s office said.