A harmful problem spreading on TikTok and different social media platforms has automobile homeowners and police departments on alert throughout the nation — difficult younger teenagers to steal sure vehicles off the road utilizing a USB wire.
The goal? Sure makes and fashions of 2010-2021 Kia and Hyundai autos that use a mechanical key, not a key fob and push-button to begin the automobile. Investigators inform CNBC the development began final yr and the variety of vehicles being stolen is continuous to surge throughout the nation.
In St. Petersburg, Florida, police reported greater than a 3rd of all automobile thefts there since mid-July are linked to the TikTok problem. Los Angeles officers say the viral development has led to an 85% improve in automobile theft of Hyundais and Kias in contrast with final yr.
The story is identical in Chicago, in line with Prepare dinner County Sheriff Tom Dart.
“In our jurisdiction alone, [thefts of certain models are] up over 800% within the final month,” he mentioned. “We see no finish in sight.”
The development challenges teenagers to steal a automobile off the road by breaking into the automobile, popping off the steering wheel column and scorching wiring the automobile utilizing a USB cable, much like the wire used to cost a cellphone.
“The viral nature of how this has taken off on social media — it is accelerated this like we have by no means seen,” Dart mentioned. “[The perpetrators are] doing it in 20 to 30 seconds. It actually is as old school as you may think about.”
Dart instructed CNBC the thieves are primarily younger teenagers — some, not even sufficiently old to legally drive. The stolen vehicles are sometimes used for joyrides, or used to commit different crimes after which deserted on the aspect of the street, he mentioned.
“We had an 11-year-old who was certainly one of our most prolific stealers … the notion that they will drive is a fantasy,” Dart mentioned.
The thieves put up movies on-line of stealing and driving the vehicles, utilizing the hashtag “Kia Boys” — which has greater than 33 million views on TikTok. The social media firm mentioned in an announcement it “doesn’t condone this conduct which violates our insurance policies and will probably be eliminated if discovered on our platform.”
Illinois resident Karen Perkins mentioned her 2019 Kia Sorrento was stolen from in entrance of her condominium on Aug. 6.
“I appeared out the window and realized my automobile was gone,” Perkins mentioned.
Days later, she was in a rental automobile at a pink mild when she mentioned her lacking Kia drove proper previous her.
“I noticed a teenage boy sitting within the entrance,” Perkins mentioned. “I drove across the block … 5 youngsters truly jumped into my automobile — that is once I began to panic — like I will lose my automobile without end.”
Perkins tells CNBC she went on a hunt to trace down her Kia. Hours later, she discovered it abandoned on the aspect of the street and known as police. She mentioned the deserted Kia was left closely broken.
“They crashed the entrance of my automobile … they broken the bumper,” Perkins mentioned. “They even wrote on the highest of my ceiling … it says ‘scorching automobile.'”
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.
“That is what they do for after-school leisure,” Gerszewski instructed CNBC. “They do not actually have a lot of a sympathy for the individuals that they are doing this to.”
Ken McClain, an legal professional in Missouri, says among the blame for the stealing spree falls on the automakers — Kia and Hyundai — claiming the businesses constructed vehicles which can be too simple to steal.
McClain calls the problem a “defect.” His agency has filed class motion lawsuits in 12 states thus far: California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Texas. He is additionally making ready to file in as many as seven different states.
“We’re receiving dozens of calls a day,” McClain mentioned. “The producer[s] must be paying for this.”
Kia and Hyundai weren’t capable of touch upon what number of autos are included within the make and mannequin years and would doubtlessly be in danger.
A Kia spokesperson mentioned the corporate is worried in regards to the improve in thefts and has offered steering free wheel lock gadgets to regulation enforcement officers in affected areas.
“It’s unlucky that criminals are utilizing social media to focus on autos with out engine immobilizers in a coordinated effort,” the spokesperson mentioned.
“Whereas no automobile might be made theft-proof, criminals are looking for autos solely geared up with a metal key and ‘turn-to-start’ ignition system. Nearly all of Kia autos in the USA are geared up with a key fob and “push-button-to-start” system, making them harder to steal. All 2022 Kia fashions and trims have an immobilizer utilized both at the start of the mannequin yr or as a operating change.”
A Hyundai spokesperson mentioned the corporate is pursuing the same effort to distribute steering wheel locks and that the corporate will start promoting a safety equipment subsequent month.
Based on Dart of the Prepare dinner County Sherriff’s Workplace, the old-school wheel lock anti-theft gadgets might go a protracted solution to thwarting the thefts.
“It makes it almost inconceivable to maneuver the automobile,” he mentioned.
— CNBC Specials Web page Peter Ferrarse contributed to this report.