After a TikTok trend spread a common technique for stealing certain makes and models of Kia and Hyundai vehicles, several police departments report a rise in grand theft auto across the U.S.
The viral July trend alleges that Kias built between 2011 and 2021 and Hyundais built from 2015 to 2021 are equipped with traditional key engines instead of the more secure keyless fobs, and are “deliberately” built without “engine immobilizers,” an inexpensive device that prevents cars from being hot-wired and stolen.
The national class action lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Orange County, California on Wednesday, lists those defects, noting that virtually every carmaker over the last 20 years has used it, but these Kia and Hyundai car makes did not, making it remarkably easy to swipe by young criminals.
Kia and Hyundai refused to comment on the pending litigation, but said that immobilizers only became standard on their vehicles after November 1, 2021.
The lawsuit further claims that Kia and Hyundai had previously looked into the efficacy of building with engine immobilizers and decided against it, “blatantly valuing profits over the safety and security of their customers.” It also notes that the automakers failed to warn customers of the resulting risk of theft.
“With the massive rise in publicity of the defect, it is unlikely that the thefts will stop without active intervention by Kia or Hyundai,” reads the lawsuit. “An entire criminal ecosystem has materialized; exacerbated by thefts only further fueled by TikToks, videos and memes promoting the criminal behavior.”
The results are overwhelming. Florida police reports that more than a third of all car thefts there since mid-July are linked to the TikTok challenge. In Los Angeles, officials say the viral trend has led to an 85% increase in car theft of Hyundais and Kias compared with last year.
According to a community advisory from the Chicago Police Department that linked the thefts to the TikTok challenge, it is a 77% increase in Kia and Hyundai thefts in Chicago.
“In our jurisdiction alone, [thefts of certain models are] up over 800% in the last month,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said. “We see no end in sight.”
The youth criminals, going by the name of ‘Kia Boys’, post videos of themselves stealing and driving the cars on social media, garnering over 33 million views on TikTok.
“The viral nature of how this has taken off on social media — it’s accelerated this like we’ve never seen,” Dart continued. ”[The perpetrators are] doing it in 20 to 30 seconds. It literally is as old-fashioned as you can imagine.”
Although the videos make catching the culprits significantly easier, the damage to the cars is often substantial, demanding repairs that cost upwards of $10,000, according to the lawsuit.
The problematic TikTok challenge has also created supply chain issues, as the parts needed to repair the vehicles have been delayed due to the enormous demand for them.
For its part, Hyundai said it will start selling and installing security kits that protect against the method of entry thieves are using to break into vehicles at Hyundai dealerships across the country. The automaker is also working with police departments to make steering wheel locks available.
As for TikTok, the company has a policy in place that asks users not to post, upload, stream or share content that promotes vandalism or damage to property.
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