Car owners and police departments across the United States are on high alert after a dangerous challenge involving young teens to steal specific cars off the street using a USB cord began to circulate on TikTok and other social media platforms.
Certain makes and models of Kia and Hyundai cars from 2010 to 2021 that use mechanical keys rather than key fobs and push buttons to start the car are the target of the attack. According to investigators, the nationwide trend began last year and the number of car thefts is still on the rise.
More than a third of all car thefts in St. Petersburg, Florida, since mid-July have been connected to the TikTok challenge, according to police.
According to Los Angeles officials, the viral trend has increased car thefts of Hyundais and Kias by 85 per cent when compared to last year.
Tom Dart, the Cook County Sheriff, claims that the situation is the same in Chicago.
“In our jurisdiction alone, [thefts of certain models are] up over 800% in the last month,” he said. “We see no end in sight.”
Teenagers are being challenged to steal a car off the street by getting inside, removing the steering wheel, and then hot wiring the car with a USB cable that is akin to the one used to charge a phone.
“The viral nature of how this has taken off on social media — it’s accelerated this like we’ve never seen,” Dart said. ”[The perpetrators are] doing it in 20 to 30 seconds. It literally is as old-fashioned as you can imagine.”
According to Dart, the majority of the thieves are young adolescents, some of whom are even too young to drive. According to him, the stolen vehicles are frequently taken for joyrides, used to commit other crimes, and then left by the side of the road.
“We had an 11-year-old who was one of our most prolific stealers … the notion that they can drive is a fantasy,” Dart said.
Using the hashtag “Kia Boys,” which has received more than 33 million views on TikTok, the thieves upload videos to the internet in which they steal and drive the vehicles. It was stated in a statement by the social media company that it “does not condone this behavior, which violates our policies and will be removed if found on our platform.”
Karen Perkins, a resident of Illinois, reported that on August 6, someone stole her 2019 Kia Sorrento from in front of her apartment.
“I looked out the window and realized my car was gone,” Perkins said.
Days later, she claimed that her missing Kia drove right past her as she waited at a red light in a rental car.
“I saw a teenage boy sitting in the front,” Perkins said. “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.”
According to Perkins, she went on the hunt to find her Kia. She called the police when she discovered it deserted on the side of the road hours later. She reported that the abandoned Kia was severely damaged.
“They crashed the front of my car … they damaged the bumper,” Perkins said. “They even wrote on the top of my ceiling … it says ‘hot car.’”
The “Kia Boys Documentary” by Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based filmmaker Tom Gerszewski, which has amassed over 3.7 million views on YouTube, follows the viral crime wave.
“This is what they do for after-school entertainment,” Gerszewski told CNBC. “They don’t really have much of a sympathy for the people that they’re doing this to.”
An attorney in Missouri named Ken McClain claims that Kia and Hyundai are partially to blame for the theft spree because they made vehicles that are too simple to steal.
His firm has so far brought class action lawsuits in 12 states: California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Texas. McClain refers to the problem as a “defect.” Additionally, he is getting ready to file in as many as seven other states.
“We’re receiving dozens of calls a day,” McClain said. “The manufacturer[s] ought to be paying for this.”
How many vehicles are included in the make and model years and may be at risk was a question that Kia and Hyundai were unable to answer.
The company is concerned about the rise in thefts, according to a Kia spokesperson, and has given steering free wheel lock devices to law enforcement officials in the affected areas.
“It is unfortunate that criminals are using social media to target vehicles without engine immobilizers in a coordinated effort,” the spokesperson said.
“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.”
The company is pursuing a similar strategy to distribute steering wheel locks, according to a Hyundai spokesperson, and will start selling security kits next month.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office’s Dart believes that the traditional wheel lock anti-theft devices could be very effective in stopping the thefts.
“It makes it nearly impossible to maneuver the car,” he said.
(Adapted from CNBC.com)