Police are warning about a new TikTok trend that could be behind a worrying spike in Hyundai and Kia car thefts.
Police departments across the country are alerting the public of a TikTok challenge with the hashtag “#KiaBoys,” which shows teens breaking into specific cars that rely on a mechanical key-ignition system.
Teens simply need a USB cable to start the car’s engine.
According to the St. Petersburg Police Department in Florida, more than a third of all car thefts in the city since mid-July are related to the TikTok challenge.
LAPD also said the viral trend — with videos receiving upwards of 33 million views — has led to an 85% increase in thefts of Hyundai and Kia brand cars in the city over the last year.
“In our jurisdiction alone, [thefts of certain models are] up over 800% in the last month,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said of the situation in Chicago. “We see no end in sight.”
The data clearly shows a change in thieves’ vehicle preferences — most likely exacerbated by social media.
In St. Louis, 3,970 motor vehicles have been reported stolen this year through August 29 — an increase from 3,784 for all of last year.
According to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, 48% of stolen cars were Kia or Hyundai vehicles, compared with just 7% of last year’s total.
Law enforcement in Charlotte, North Carolina, also recorded a significant 346% increase in Kia and Hyundai thefts over the last year.
“This challenge is a play by play [sic] for young adults on how to steal both Hyundai and Kia vehicles. These automobile thefts are a crime of opportunity and can affect just about any member of the community,” the Chicago Police Department’s 15th District wrote in a recent community advisory notice.
The TikTok trend challenges teenagers to steal the cars, which are more vulnerable due to having a traditional, mechanical key instead of a push button or key fob to start the car.
Law enforcement says that certain 2011–2021 Kia models and 2016–2021 Hyundai models are being targeted because they lack a chip that prevents the car from starting without a key.
Teens simply have to break into a car, pop the steering wheel column and hot wire the vehicle with an ordinary USB cable used to charge a phone — and the engine will start.
However, law enforcement experts are surprised with how quickly the trend caught on.
“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.”
Darby Solmos was one recent victim of the challenge. She went down to the underground garage of her apartment one morning and found her car missing.
“The car was just gone,” the 28-year-old nurse said.
Law enforcement said that the cars are not being sold for money, but rather for joy rides or for committing other crimes.
The car companies are also facing class-action lawsuits claiming their vehicles are defective.
“The vehicles are defective in that, among other things, Defendants manufactured and designed them without engine immobilizers, an electronic security device that makes it virtually impossible to start a vehicle without a key unless the vehicle’s computer has been altered,” the lawsuit read.
Kia responded to the lawsuit defending its position.
“While no car can be made theft-proof, criminals are seeking vehicles solely equipped with a steel key and ‘turn-to-start’ ignition system,” Kia America said in a statement.
“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.”
The “Kia Boyz” are thought to be based in Milwaukee. The group has had their videos removed from social media platforms such as YouTube and TikTok.
Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman first picked up on the trend in 2020.
“That really took hold of the young adults in our community as a game,” Norman said as he saw the negative influence of social media spread to the youth.
After police returned Solmos’ car, it cost around $1,000 to repair the damage caused by the thieves.
In addition to parking in busier or well-lit parking spots — particularly in public parking garages — experts like Doug Shupe with the Auto Club of Southern California recommend using a steering wheel lock device to scare away perpetrators.
“Having something like this, even if they see it on the steering wheel, they may think it’s too much trouble and go to the next vehicle,” Shupe said.