Authorities are blaming a TikTok trend for a rise in thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles.
Known as the “Kia Challenge,” viral videos on TikTok and YouTube show people breaking into Kia cars and instructing viewers on how to start them with a USB cable.
“You don’t need a key, bro,” a man could be heard saying as he uses a USB cable to start a Kia car in a video posted by the TikTok user robbierayyy. “It should override it.”
The video was posted on July 12 with the hashtag #kiaboyz, but was taken down Monday, July 25, according to TikTok.
Kia models made from 2011-2021 and Hyundai models from 2015-2021 allowed someone to bypass the ignition and start the car after removing the steering column, according to the Norfolk Police Department in Virginia.
“Although this is a new trend for Norfolk, the exploitation of this vulnerability in these vehicle models has become a nationwide trend,” the department said in a news release posted on July 21.
People across the country have been sharing stories on social media and with local news outlets about their Kia and Hyundai cars being broken into.
“The world is nuts,” Brian Attard wrote in a Facebook post on July 25. “I (got) a call from my daughter, someone tried to steal her Kia Soul last night, smashed the window and there’s ignition wires all over the place.”
Attard shared a photo of the interior of the vehicle with a destroyed steering column and a cable on the floor.
“The sick part is this model Kia is part of a (TikTok) challenge with instructions on how to steal this car using a USB cable(in the photo) and (bypassing) the ignition switch,” he wrote. “They failed but the damage is done!”
Alissa Smart of Lapel, Indiana, told WDRB that someone broke into her Kia and damaged it in an attempt to steal it overnight on July 16.
“This video actually shows it is possible to start a KIA soul with a phone charger,” Smart wrote in a July 21 Facebook post in which she shared a viral “Kia Challenge” TikTok video. “How do we allow stuff like this to stay up on the Internet for other vulnerable minds to find and reenact? And unfortunately, it happened to me.”
Police in Norfolk, Virginia, told WAVY that their department saw a 35% increase in Kia and Hyundai thefts in the first half of July.
In St Paul, Minnesota, about 460 Kia and Hyundai vehicles have been stolen so far this year compared with 63 during the same period last year, according to the Star Tribune. And in St. Louis, Missouri, thefts of Kias and Hyundais are up 400% compared to this time last year, according to KSDK. Without counting these particular models, thefts of all other types of cars are down 6% in the city, according to the outlet.
TikTok said in a statement that videos showing people how to start cars with USB cables violate the company’s guidelines.
“Content that promotes or enables criminal activity, including theft, is against our Community Guidelines and will be removed from the platform,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Kia America said the company was aware of the increase in vehicle thefts.
“As of the current 2022 Model Year, all Kia vehicles have an engine immobiliser fitted as standard,” the statement says. “All Kia vehicles for sale in the US meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.”
Hyundai Motor America also said in a statement that the company was concerned about the rise in thefts.
“The safety and well-being of our customers and the community is and will remain our top priority,” the statement says. “These vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and engine immobilisers are standard equipment on all new Hyundai vehicles.”
Police departments across the country are encouraging vehicle owners, particularly those with vulnerable Kia and Hyundai models, to take extra precautions to protect their cars.
Car owners should park in well-lit areas near buildings or cameras or inside a garage; remove valuables from inside the vehicle; always lock their doors; activate the vehicle’s alarm system; and use a locking mechanism, such as a column collar or steering wheel lock, according to a statement from the Grand Rapids Police Department in Michigan.
Spokespeople for Kia and Hyundai also encouraged customers to call their customer service lines if they have questions. – The Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service