TikTok challenge spurs rise in thefts of Kia, Hyundai cars

A harmful challenge spreading on TikTok and different social media platforms has automotive house owners and police departments on alert throughout the nation — difficult younger teenagers to steal sure cars off the road utilizing a USB twine.

The goal? Certain makes and fashions of 2010-2021 Kia and Hyundai autos that use a mechanical key, not a key fob and push-button to start out the automotive. Investigators inform CNBC the development began final 12 months and the quantity of cars being stolen is constant to surge throughout the nation. 

In St. Petersburg, Florida, police reported greater than a 3rd of all automotive thefts there since mid-July are linked to the TikTok challenge. Los Angeles officers say the viral development has led to an 85% enhance in automotive theft of Hyundais and Kias in contrast with final 12 months.

The story is identical in Chicago, in line with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

“In our jurisdiction alone, [thefts of certain models are] up over 800% in the last month,” he mentioned. “We see no end in sight.”

The development challenges teenagers to steal a automotive off the road by breaking into the automotive, popping off the steering wheel column and scorching wiring the automobile utilizing a USB cable, just like the wire used to cost a telephone. 

“The viral nature of how this has taken off on social media — it’s accelerated this like we’ve never seen,” Dart mentioned. “[The perpetrators are] doing it in 20 to 30 seconds. It literally is as old-fashioned as you can imagine.”

Dart advised CNBC the thieves are primarily younger teenagers — some, not even sufficiently old to legally drive. The stolen cars are sometimes used for joyrides, or used to commit different crimes after which deserted on the facet of the street, he mentioned.

“We had an 11-year-old who was one of our most prolific stealers … the notion that they can drive is a fantasy,” Dart mentioned. 

The thieves publish movies on-line of stealing and driving the cars, utilizing the hashtag “Kia Boys” — which has greater than 33 million views on TikTok. The social media firm mentioned in an announcement it “does not condone this behavior which violates our policies and will be removed if found on our platform.”

Illinois resident Karen Perkins mentioned her 2019 Kia Sorrento was stolen from in entrance of her condo on Aug. 6.

“I looked out the window and realized my car was gone,” Perkins mentioned.

Days later, she was in a rental automotive at a crimson mild when she mentioned her lacking Kia drove proper previous her.

“I saw a teenage boy sitting in the front,” Perkins mentioned. “I drove around the block … five kids actually jumped into my car — that’s when I started to panic — like I’m going to lose my car forever.”

Perkins tells CNBC she went on a hunt to trace down her Kia. Hours later, she discovered it abandoned on the facet of the street and referred to as police. She mentioned the deserted Kia was left closely broken. 

“They crashed the front of my car … they damaged the bumper,” Perkins mentioned. “They even wrote on the top of my ceiling … it says ‘hot car.'”

Tom Gerszewski, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based filmmaker, tracks the viral crime spree on his YouTube channel in “Kia Boys Documentary,” which has already topped 3.7 million views.

“This is what they do for after-school entertainment,” Gerszewski advised CNBC. “They don’t really have much of a sympathy for the people that they’re doing this to.”

Ken McClain, an lawyer in Missouri, says some of the blame for the stealing spree falls on the automakers — Kia and Hyundai — claiming the businesses constructed cars which can be too straightforward to steal.

McClain calls the problem a “defect.” His agency has filed class motion lawsuits in 12 states up to now: California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Texas. He’s additionally getting ready to file in as many as seven different states.

“We’re receiving dozens of calls a day,” McClain mentioned. “The manufacturer[s] ought to be paying for this.”

Kia and Hyundai weren’t capable of touch upon what number of autos are included in the make and mannequin years and would probably be in danger.

A Kia spokesperson mentioned the corporate is worried in regards to the enhance in thefts and has supplied steering free wheel lock gadgets to legislation enforcement officers in affected areas.

“It is unfortunate that criminals are using social media to target vehicles without engine immobilizers in a coordinated effort,” the spokesperson mentioned.

“While no car can be made theft-proof, criminals are seeking vehicles solely equipped with a steel key and ‘turn-to-start’ ignition system. The majority of Kia vehicles in the United States are equipped with a key fob and “push-button-to-start” system, making them more difficult to steal. All 2022 Kia models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the model year or as a running change.”

A Hyundai spokesperson mentioned the corporate is pursuing an analogous effort to distribute steering wheel locks and that the corporate will start promoting a safety equipment subsequent month.

According to Dart of the Cook County Sherriff’s Office, the old-school wheel lock anti-theft gadgets might go an extended method to thwarting the thefts.

“It makes it nearly impossible to maneuver the car,” he mentioned.

— CNBC Specials Page Peter Ferrarse contributed to this report.

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